This passage helps us understand how we can have the right attitude and emotion in our obedience. We come to know God through the same general process we get to know fellow human beings—by fellowshipping or experiencing life with them.
Around 500 years before Christ, Greek philosophers believed they could come to know God through intellectual reasoning and argument. This idea had a simple premise: that man is curious! They reasoned that it is man's nature to ask questions. Since God made man so, if men asked the right questions and thought them through, they would force God to reveal Himself. The flaw in this is seen in the fruit it produced. Though it supplied a number of right answers, it did not—could not—make men moral beings. Such a process could not change man's nature.
To them, religion became something akin to higher mathematics. It was intense mental activity, yielding intellectual satisfaction but no moral action. Plato and Socrates, for example, saw nothing wrong with homosexuality. The gods of Greek mythology also reflect this immorality, as they had the same weaknesses as human beings.
A few hundred years later, the Greeks pursued becoming one with God through mystery religions. One of their distinctive features was the passion play, which always had the same general theme. A god lived, suffered terribly, died a cruel, unjust death, and then rose to life again. Before being allowed to see the play, an initiate endured a long course of instruction and ascetic discipline. As he progressed in the religion, he was gradually worked into a state of intense expectation.
Then, at the right time, his instructors took him to the passion play, where they orchestrated the environment to heighten the emotional experience: cunning lighting, sensuous music, fragrant incense, and uplifting liturgy. As the story developed, the initiate became so emotionally involved that he identified himself with and believed he shared the god's suffering, victory, and immortality.
But this exercise failed them in coming to know God. Not only did it not change man's nature, but the passion play was also full of lies! The result was not true knowing but feeling. It acted like a religious drug, the effects of which were short-lived. It was an abnormal experience, somewhat like a modern Pentecostal meeting where worshippers pray down the "spirit" and speak in tongues. Such activities are escapes from the realities of ordinary life.
Contrast these Greek methods with the Bible's way of knowing God. Knowledge of God comes, not by speculation or emotionalism, but by God's direct self-revelation. In other words, God Himself initiates our knowing of Him, beginning our relationship by drawing us by His Spirit (John 6:44).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Of all people, we who have left the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in the past decade should be most aware of the antinomian spirit working in the church of God. The doctrinal changes that began to be instituted mere months after the death of Herbert W. Armstrong had as their goal the removal of God's law, particularly the Sabbath, from the church's beliefs. WCG's subsequent heavy emphasis on "grace" and "love," along with its renunciation of "legalism" exposed its antinomian position. Because of these changes, it has joined evangelical Protestant "Christianity" to the point that it now worships on Sunday, encourages celebration of Christmas and Easter, and permits the use of crucifixes and images of "Jesus" by its ministry and membership and in its publications.
The "Christian" churches of this world are predominantly antinomian to some extent. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism belong to what can be termed Hellenistic Christianity, that is, a form of Christianity heavily influenced by Greek philosophies, particularly Gnosticism. Catholicism is the more moderate of the two, having retained obedience to the Church and its traditions as well as requiring certain works for salvation. However, its belief of the afterlife, with its levels of heaven, limbo, purgatory, and beatific vision - not to mention its belief in an immortal soul - brand it as Gnostic.
Protestantism is more antinomian, having rejected Catholicism's works during the Reformation. Martin Luther's doctrine of salvation by grace "through faith alone" removes God's law from the equation altogether. Pure Protestant theology is so antinomian that it claims that lawkeeping in any form - which it terms "legalism" - is detrimental to the soul's growth in spirituality. This form of Christianity also champions the doctrine of eternal security, the idea that, once one accepts Jesus, he can never lose his salvation, no matter what sins he commits ("once saved, always saved"). This doctrine knocks out law and judgment for sin in one blow.
Of course, the world itself is antinomian because it is under the sway of Satan the Devil, who despises God's law (Ephesians 2:2; I John 5:19; Romans 8:7). He even tried his antinomian tricks on Jesus, who countered with quotations from the law (Matthew 4:1-10)! Certainly, our adversary will tempt us similarly, trying to get us to put God's law aside so we can fulfill our desires.
Jesus, however, in his prayer in John 17, asks God to help us in this, and He also gives us the antidote to antinomianism:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep [guard, protect] them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (verses 15-17)
Knowing God's truth and practicing it to become holy will protect us from the rampant antinomianism of this world, this age that is soon to end. Still to come are the Beast and his False Prophet, who will exemplify this anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-law spirit. To endure to the end, to survive the mystery of lawlessness that will mark the end time, we must hold fast to God's Word and seek His righteousness. "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the [New Jerusalem]" (Revelation 22:14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
To receive salvation, a Christian must now live a life of obedience to the law of God. Those who claim that they know Christ and still continue in a life of breaking God's commandments are liars.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation
Reflect on John 8 and the dialogue that took place between Christ and the Jews. This is the kind of terminology that Christ kept responding with. He called them “sons of Satan.” Satan was a liar from the beginning, the father of liars and the father of murderers. And the people in His audience were showing the Devil's characteristics.
When He told them, “Why do you try to kill Me?” they denied that they were trying to kill Him. But before that conversation was over, they picked up rocks to throw at Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part 2)
Eternal life is to know God (John 17:3). Do we want to know God and do His will at the same time? Keep His commandments. Do not sin. Overcome and grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). To do this, we have to desire to live the eternal life given us by the Father through Jesus Christ. This does not come easily. Our Savior describes this way as difficult and narrow, for human nature stands ever ready to throw stumbling blocks in our path.
Sin destroys ideals. As we sin, the high standards of eternal life are gradually eroded away, and we become willing to accept just about anything. Sin destroys innocence, and in the process creates fear, cynicism, guilt, and restlessness. Sin destroys the will, gradually removing the barriers to sin more and the incentive to do well.
Sin produces more sin, sickness, pain, slavery, and finally, death. This cycle will never change unless each person, as God summons him, takes it upon himself to allow himself to be motivated to use the gifts God gives. It takes a great deal of effort to do this. Jesus warns it will be difficult.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
The love of God is perfected in those who keep His Word (I John 4:12). It is the keeping of the commands of God by the Spirit of God with the motivation of the love of God that perfects it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Basic Definition
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 John 2:4: