The commands of John

A year ago I made a bunch of people mad by saying John never mentions the word “repent” in his gospel. To this day I still get messages from angry folks who say things like, “Well even if John didn’t preach it, you should! We need more preaching on repentance.”

Actually I think we need more preaching on Jesus, but hey, that’s just me.

The reason I mention John is because those of us who preach grace often get accused of not emphasizing repentance. My response: neither did John. Anyway, I’m not about to poke that hornet’s nest again. Perhaps it’s time to throw the angry folks a bone and swing the pendulum way back towards dead works. This ought to make them happy:

Jesus: If you love me, you will obey what I command. (Joh 14:15)
John: We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. (1 John 2:3)

“Aha!” says the angry man. “See? What did I tell you? You can’t wriggle your way out of this one. Stop preaching grace and start preaching obedience. John is clearly saying that you have to obey God’s commands if you want to be known by him.”

Actually, he says no such thing but I can see how one might jump to that awful and insecure conclusion: I had better obey God’s commands if I want to know him.

If this is how you read it, let me respond four ways:

(1) Your salvation is not based on what you do or don’t do for God. It’s based on whether he knows you. Jesus prophesied that in the end many will claim to have done good deeds in his name but he won’t know them (Mat 7:22-23). God wants you not your works.

(2) You cannot reduce the relationship that God desires to a set of rules to be kept. As we saw in Part 1 of this series, disobedience is a fruit of distrust and distrust has two faces. One way to walk in unbelief is to say, as the Israelites did, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” Many are looking for rules to keep and principles to follow and the result is faithless, lifeless churchianity.

(3) Genuine obedience follows trust, which is always based on love. (See Part 2.) If you are trying to obey God’s commands out of fear and insecurity – “I have to do this or else” – then you’ve missed grace and you’re wasting your time.

(4) If you trust Jesus but are still worried about this whole obedience thing, especially 1 John 2:3 above, then read the preceding verses where John lays a sure and secure foundation of God’s love for you. Understand that there’s a world of difference between saints who sin and sinners who sin. Since they are walking by sight and not faith, sinners sin naturally. They can’t help but sin (Rom 14:23). As a child of God you are able to resist sin. Yet even if you stumble, God won’t kick you out of his family. Instead, Jesus will speak to your defense because you are his.

All clear? Is your foundation firm? Good. Now let’s unpackage these words of John.

Jesus never threatens his bride

John, like Jesus before him, is not making threats but promises. The key difference between the two scriptures at the top of this post is their context:

Jesus: speaking to his beloved disciples
John: writing to the wider church

John is basically saying, “One way to tell if someone really knows Jesus is that they obey him.” John continues,

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)

The insecure believer reads this as a threat. I had better do what Jesus commands or else I’m not really a Christian. No, no, no! Christianity is not about impersonating Jesus. Christianity is Christ in us. It’s him living his supernatural life through us effortlessly (Gal 2:20). If you don’t have Christ you can’t reveal Christ – that’s what John is saying. In a world of phonies, a surefire way to recognize a genuine believer is that Christ lives through them. Without conscious effort, they do what he commands.

The axis of love

And what does Jesus command? Love, above all (John 13:35). Now I understand that some Christians get distracted to such a degree that they forget to receive and give love for a time, but that’s not what John is talking about here. He is referring to those who don’t have the love of God in them, period:

He who hates his brother is in darkness… (1 John 2:11, NKJV).

John is describing those who are following the way of Cain. As Brian Zahnd might say, John is talking about ungodly people who have not yet come into orbit around the axis of love:

But whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in him. He who says he abides in him ought himself also to walk just as he walked. (1 John 2:5-6, NKJV)

Again, the insecure believer reads this as a conditional statement. I had better obey to earn my way into the kingdom. I have to walk as Jesus walked. But that’s not what John is saying. Read the passage again. John is saying that obedience is a fruit not a root. It’s a natural by-product of being connected to Jesus-the-Vine and allowing him to live his life through you.

Look closely at verse 5 and you will see two verbs or variables:

1.  our word-keeping (or obedience)
2.  God’s love perfecting

Which comes first? Answer: The love of God. John is saying, “This is how we know God’s love has done its perfect work in us – we keep his word.” Do you see it? God’s love always comes first. John hammers this nail again and again: “We love, and walk, and keep his commands, and do everything, because he first loved us” (see 1 John 4:19).

Receiving and abiding in God’s love is the foundation for everything in our walk. Who walks as Jesus walks? It is not the stressed out and fearful pretender. Jesus wasn’t stressed and fearful. Nor is it the one who is angry at those of us preaching grace and under-selling repentance. The one called Grace was never angry at grace!

So who walks as Jesus walks? It is the one who resting secure in his Father’s love.

The disciple Jesus loves

The apostle John had a revelation of God’s love that perhaps went further than the other disciples. He was, after all, the one who went around calling himself the disciple Jesus loved (see John 20:2, 21:7). I am sure that Jesus loved all his disciples, but John was transformed by that love. He loves me! I’m special. I’m the disciple Jesus loves!

You need to see yourself the same way. You need to see yourself as “the disciple Jesus loves” or “my Father’s beloved son.” This is not arrogance. This is Jesus getting what he came for – your heart!


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57 Comments on The commands of John

  1. Terry Moore // April 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm // Reply

    Bro. Paul always love your writings. I use them often at my church plant. I was wondering if you ever considered the word repent as just changing your mind about something. You may have said it somewhere else, or I studied it somewhere. I like the idea of repenting of simply being a change of mind. The only way to get the junk out of my life, is to change my mind about Christ and what he can do.

  2. I love the way that you phrase this: “Christianity is not about impersonating Jesus. Christianity is Christ in us.”

    I would hesitate to suggest that it is effortless, though. Certainly, we have no capacity to save ourselves, and our redemption is not earned or attributed to merit. However, God invites us to actively participate in the work He is doing in us, shaping us, transforming us, sanctifying us.

    I would further argue that salvation is so much more than a moment of conversion. It is freedom. It manifests firmly in that moment where we are utterly forgiven, made new, and move from being enemies of God to friends of God. However, so long as there is a sin inclination within us, God is still working that salvation to set us free. After all, we are not just saved from the effects of sin, we are being saved from sin itself. So, then, justification and sanctification are are two sides of the same coin. Both are wrought by grace, and both are outworkings of salvation. Sanctification, however, does involve our participation in an active sense, and so is not a passive ‘effortless’ movement.

    • We are indeed invited to participate actively in the “works” God has given us to do. However, I don’t think Paul was suggesting that sanctification is a passive “effortless” movement. The effort involved is the effort of Jesus and the work of the cross. We do have to agree with God and receive it, and it is a process. The process isn’t so much us getting “cleaned up” as it is us learning our identity and becoming more aligned with the love of our Father and trusting in what He’s done for us. The more we lay hold of this truth (i.e. work out our salvation), the more Christ’s work of sanctification is reflected in us. Working out our salvation doesn’t mean we are “performing”, it means we are growing in the revelation of what has been done for us. Having said all that, I do believe that salvation is past, present, and future. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, we are being saved from the power of sin, and we will be saved from the presence of sin. God is outside of time though, and it is already “complete”.

      • chrisvanrooyen // April 5, 2013 at 11:42 am //

        Hi Brandon,
        I understand finally being saved from the presence of sin .But also believe that the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin is death.

        Could you please explain in more detail what the power of sin is ?

      • Chris, what I mean by penalty is that which Christ “paid” for with His blood shed on the cross. We still experience a physical death, but the spiritual death has certainly been defused. However, what I mean by the present “power” of sin is in reference to sin still being present in the world, and that it’s still possible for people to be swayed by it in committing an act of sin, for an unbeliever it comes naturally, and for a believer when they choose to walk by the flesh rather than the spirit.

      • chrisvanrooyen // April 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm //

        Hi Brandon

        Thanks for your answer 1 Corinth 15;56 also refers the law as being the power of sin.

    • Surely it has to be effortless, otherwise God doesn’t get all the glory? Sure, we have to receive, but getting gifts has never been much effort for me..!

    • chrisvanrooyen // April 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm // Reply

      Hi T.E. Hanna
      I can assure you that you are utterly forgiven, you are free, a friend of God, redeemed, justified,sanctified.
      Your sin inclination has nothing to do with it, Jesus has everything to do with it . the day you accepted him all this happened for you, you have just not accepted it all yet.

      • Trevor Lancashire // May 21, 2013 at 12:27 am //

        Hi Chrisvanrooyen – Really liked this reply you made to H.T.Hanna comment way back the beginning of this month – Thanks – If you have anything more to add to what you said here would love to hear it!

    • Amen. Brother but our part is mearly a response to his grace. That is True Holyness. True sanctification. And we do have a part to play. Our part is keep our Faith firmly planted in Jesus Christ an him Crucified , this is the only way the Holy Spirit has latitude to produce the fruits of Holyness. The more we learn to rest in Jesus the more Holy we become effortlessly. That’s my take on it.

      • Michael Frahm // June 14, 2018 at 12:09 am //

        These are terriffic comments. I would only add that Christ did come to die so that we would be forgiven. He died, and was made alive to give us life, His life. Christ dwells in us and we rely on Him. If Christ did not walk out of the grave we would be still be forgiven but spiritually dead.

  3. Great post. I was just reading Andre Rabe’s book “Imagine” where he says, “…when we know the heart of the Father sin loses all its attraction.” Knowing we are loved by our Father has to be the key to the power of sanctification. And of course this is only through our union with Christ for “no one knows the Father except the Son.”

  4. That 1 word ‘effortless’ is a stumbling block. I just think of Joseph Prince’s “Destined to Reign, The secret to effortless success, wholeness and victorious living”. Many can’t accept it because of that 1 word 🙂

  5. Excellent post, love it. Not sure why I haven’t done this sooner, but I am going to add you, your family, and the E2R ministry to my prayer list. 🙂

  6. Robert Guinaugh // April 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm // Reply

    Breath of fresh air is all can say. I belong to XYZ Church and unfortunately we do not hear near enough about the Lord’s Grace. How many fellow followers of Christ are there who are starved for this essential truth and insight into what our God arranged for us to live by?

  7. “So you’re saying that we can just go ahead and do whatever we want?!”


    Another great post, thank you!

  8. shirley jenkins // April 5, 2013 at 12:25 am // Reply

    Hi Paul …thank you for your wonderful ‘understanding’ of the gospels.. and reading what Robert says I know that sooo many people [Christians] have not yet heard the ‘good news’ but what totally amazes me is how manyChristiand resist this teaching with their ‘BUTS’..will pray for them and do all I can to spread the really good news .Love you…thank you xx

  9. Josef hauner // April 5, 2013 at 2:54 am // Reply

    Religion is always about what we have to do, true Christianity is about what Jesus has done for us and strips us of all self reliance and self effort. The people who have problems with the grace message – gospel- are the ones deceived by religion to one degree or another Christian or not.

  10. Josef hauner // April 5, 2013 at 3:18 am // Reply

    If we do not understand the difference between the Mosaic covenant-law- and the Abrahamic covenant-grace- we will suffer between the two. The lie of the Christian religion is the harder you try to keep the law the better you will be but the truth is the harder you try the the more you will fail-Romans 7:21-24. The try hard people stumble over the stumbling stone-Jesus. There are two kinds of righteousness, your own and God’s. The more you understand grace and the gift of God’s righteousness the better life you will lead. The more you rely on your own righteousness the more you will fail and sin, either by recognizing you own wretchedness or not recognizing your pride. God will accept nothing less than the perfection of Jesus and his finished work for us we all need to get on the same page with God’s solution. Throw away your own righteousness (you really don’t have any anyway) and more and more embrace God’s gift of his righteousness. The more we do this the more freedom we will walk in. Freedom comes in revelation of God’s righteousness put to your account, Romans 7:25 and Romans 8:14-flesh being self effort

  11. Rick Shafer // April 5, 2013 at 4:09 am // Reply

    John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, has always been my favorite of the 13 (I include Mathias after Judas), He lay against Jesus at the table, he is there close in Garden, the only disciple at the Cross, he runs into the tomb and I believe he was the last of the disciples to die. John are the books I go to when I am in the valley of darkness; because John really “got it”; he really understood. You can feel how much happiness, pure joy Jesus is to him throughout his Gospel and letters. And remember, it was to John that the Lord Jesus Christ gave the words for the end of days and the glory of being with Jesus forever. John, though part of the first 4 books, I never viewed as Synoptic–certainly Matthew -Luke contain exact or similar actions of Jesus; but John is so different to me in tone, in feel, in simplicity. John’s message is simply that Jesus is the Risen Beloved Son, the Christ of the Living God; that Jesus is God Himself; that Jesus is Love itself. So whatever you do Brethren, love one another.

  12. Trevor Lancashire // April 5, 2013 at 5:07 am // Reply

    Great post – On the subject of effortless change we must remember all our efforts must now be engaged in labouring to enter into rest – This speaks about labouring in one thing alone – to enter into resting in the ‘finished work’ of Jesus. Jesus did all the work that was necessary for us to live a life of victory – over sin, sickness and every negative situation that could come our way. Faith can only receive what Grace has provided – Grace is Jesus and he has met our every need through his death, burial, resurrection and ascension – As Ephesians tells us, we are now seated with him in heavenly places – When He died, we died. When He was raised, we were raised. When He ascended, we ascended. When He was seated, we were seated – His victory is now our victory – Our labour is to believe and enter into a rest of faith in this wonderful accomplishment – The finished work!! Thank you Jesus!!

  13. ok,here we go again,I just got done arguing [almost un-friending] my catholic friend,for this very thing,and you had to post this,well I think I will post this on facebook [ just because] out of love of course haha. I keep trying to make the point,that it is all him,and without him we are nothing, effortless is poison to them,because they think they are doing so well,and if they produced fruit [work] with out there effort,they would not be able to say [look what I did]. I have to remember how hard it was for me to grasp grace and unconditional love.

    • yes… such are like the hired laborers who worked all day long … and then proceded to throw a fit when the ones hired in the last hour got paid the same wage they did! (matt 20:12)

      • I’ve been thinking about that very thing.

      • I’ve also wondered how the other scripture ties in though where Benjamin receives more than his brothers after Joseph sends them back. JP brought this up in a teaching and he mentions we’ll get 5 times more. I think it’s the one he says we’re the Benjamin generation. But how do you reconcile that with Matt 20?

      • i think the connection is resting… the 10 brothers (who represent the law) were anxious and troubled – they labored in their minds… benjamin was blessed abundantly simply because he was a child of grace (rachel) and showed up. 😉

      • Colleen G // April 10, 2013 at 2:03 am //

        Gahigi- I have always seen that parable as saying that it is up to God to decided how much He is going to give us and that we should not demand a certain amount simply because we think we deserve it. Trust God to give us what we need but don’t be petty and demanding.

      • after reading the story in genesis again… i find it rather interesting that joseph tells his brothers not to be angry or quarrel on the way back to canaan to gather their families to bring back to egypt gen 45:24). no doubt because he had blessed benjamin with more than they felt that he deserved… 😉

      • sorry gahigi – i just reread your question again… (so i was probably telling you something you already realized) benjamin was the youngest – the “last” brother… and the “least” of them…

      • Jennie, That makes sense that Benjamin is the last and least of them. -Colleen, I’m not trying to demand something from God but I’ll take everything he’s offering which matters little to me next to Jesus. The point is I’ll take it though. I also think He’s offering it to all of us. I just don’t want the persecution or attention, jealousy, etc but oh well.

  14. gibert sanchez // April 5, 2013 at 10:04 am // Reply

    YES!!! It’s ALL about JESUS!! not about us…. HE died on the cross ONCE and for ALL!!!! All our iniquities already been paid….. Past, Present and even the future….. How about that!!!!! HE is so so gooooooood!!!!

  15. Love to hear it. I am special to God. I am the disciple whom Jesus loves. And, so are you. And I love you too, Paul.

  16. wooooooooooooow..every one needs JESUS..

  17. Ryan Tingley // April 10, 2013 at 10:14 am // Reply

    Great news for everyone! John, Jesus, James and Peter were all preaching the evangel of the circumcision (the law). Paul was called to preach the evangel of the “uncircumcision” (grace). Paul said himself that he was commissioned to “complete” the word of God. Many people are stuck trying to reconcile two different evangels that will never say the same thing. Paul says to him who stops working righteousness is accredited while James clearly states that faith without works is dead. Peter, James, John and JESUS, were all saying something completely contradictory to the gospel of grace. Jesus said Himself that He was called to the lost sheep of Israel. That is not you or I. We are gentiles brothers and sisters. Clearly under the administration of grace. Paul had a revelation of THE RISEN CHRIST! He never walked with Jesus or talked with Jesus. He encountered Jesus in a NEW way, post resurrection. Adhere only to the gospel of grace as preached by Paul the Apostle. The whole Bible might be for you but it isn’t all “to” you. Blessings and grace. A great read if this post offends you or confuses you in anyway: “The First Idiot in Heaven” by Martin Zender.

    • The apostles certainly had different audiences, but they all preached the one and the same gospel. (There is only one gospel.) If they didn’t, then Paul’s curse would’ve applied to them (Gal 1:8-9). All of the apostles encountered Jesus after the resurrection – not just Paul. Even James was an apostle of grace (even if it’s not obvious).

      Jesus preached law to those under law AND Jesus revealed the gospel of grace. He wrapped up the old covenant and initiated the new. While it is true to say the whole Bible is not for you, the dividing point is not one set of apostles vs another. The dividing point of history is the cross.

      • Ryan Tingley // April 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm //

        First of all Paul, I want to say thank you so much for replying to my comment. I much enjoy reading your blog and at times find it very encouraging and fun to entertain… That being said, there are, in fact, two different evangels mentioned in the new testament.

        7 But, on the contrary, perceiving that I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, 8 according as Peter [with the evangel] of the Circumcision (for He Who operates in Peter for the apostleship of the Circumcision operates in me also for the nations), and, knowing the grace which is being given to me. 9 James and Cephas and John, who are supposed to be pillars, give to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we, indeed, are to be for the nations, yet they for the Circumcision” (Gal. 2:7-9)

        It is evident here that Paul makes a distinction between the two separate evangels. In 2 Peter 2:15-16 Peter states that Pauls Gospel was hard to comprehend/adhere to depending on what translation you are looking at. These are only two scriptures that I believe undoubtedly point to the fact that there are two different administrations… My point in saying all of this is simple. Trying to reconcile the gospel of the circumcision and the gospel of the uncircumcision is very very dangerous. Actually, its impossible. These men were speaking to different audiences for a reason, because they had different messages.

      • Ryan, I trimmed, rather than deleted your comment, because I wanted you to have a chance to defend your idea. However, in future, please adhere to E2R’s comment policy (ie: keep it short).

        If Paul is claiming two gospels in Galatians 2, then he is contradicting what he said in Galatians 1. There aren’t two gospels. “The circumcision” simply means “the Jews.” Paul had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles; Peter to the Jews. Nothing more. Peter never says, “Paul has a different gospel from me.” He says, “Paul says some things that the unlearned and unstable people twist and distort” (2 Pet 3:16). It is not dangerous trying to reconcile two gospels. It’s ridiculous. It is twisting and distorting Paul’s words.

        Whether you are circumcised or not, there is only one gospel and that is the gospel of grace that Jesus revealed and ALL of the NT writers proclaimed.

    • chrisvanrooyen // April 10, 2013 at 11:52 am // Reply

      Yes two approaches. One Gospel.

    • chrisvanrooyen // April 10, 2013 at 1:54 pm // Reply

      Ryan I am trying to see it from your point of view, could you in short if possible, give me an outline of these two Gospels (messages).

      • Ryan Tingley // April 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm //

        Hey Chris! Sorry it has been so long since my reply. I am currently training for my CDL and most of my days have been filled with class and driving. In regards to your question, I think it’s awesome that you are open to this perspective… I will be more than happy to continue this conversation via email. Just let me know brother!

  18. chrisvanrooyen // April 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm // Reply

    Hi Ryan
    Escape to Reality provides a forum for robust debate, where we receive and impart revelation of God,s plans for us. If you have revelation to add, this is the place to do for to the benefit of everyone. I appreciate the invite for one on one debate , but find this avenue less productive. If we could please continue here, there is wisdom in the council of many.

    • Actually what you are looking for Chris, is E2R’s Facebook page. These threads are for discussing the posts above. Comments that are unrelated to the posts are routinely filtered out, as per E2R’s comment policy. Ryan’s desire to sell us two gospels, as fascinating as that may be, has no obvious relevance to post. If I were to let this go, I would be bombarded by readers wanting to know how to unsubscribe from a comment thread they thought was going to be on something else.

  19. The Lord revealed to my wife and I about 8 years ago that the church was sick. Then he gave us Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23. A month later he gave me the antidote. Unfortunately it took us till six months ago to understand what he had spoken to us. The answer is the gospel that Paul preached. Specifically in Acts chapter 13. The church is sick because the gospel has not been preached the way it was revealed to Paul, but has been mixed and balanced by preachers and ministers because they haven’t confidence in it as stated in Acts 13 v 41. My wife and I have an urgency to let people know what the true gospel is and as we share it we are seeing many become free. It is a pleasure to read your stuff and we thank God for more Gospel preachers such as your self. May you be doubly blessing!!

    • Rick Shafer // May 20, 2013 at 4:44 am // Reply

      The “Gospel” that I only heard my first 59 years was Law + Faith + Tithe + Doing Something. Then I read a book called “How People Grow” and in a “throw-away” phrase that “walking in Grace…” and Whoa! what is this? I got out my old Strong’s, Amplified, English to Hebrew and started to research. What is this Grace? And what do you have to do to walk in it? After 18 months, I heard a 28 minute message on YouTube by a guy named Prince. Then I knew what the Gospel was, what Grace is! And it became ever so simple! Religious Colleges or classes or Universities have missed it; therefore, the preachers, especially TV preachers, have led their people to looking down and never UP! The Gospel is a Man and His Name is Jesus. Grace is totally freely given by the Father so that through His Beloved Son, this Man named Jesus, we will have His righteousness and Together, we shall live and reign forever. No more Law, no more mixing Law + anything that makes you feel good, simply no more. The simple answer is the Man, Jesus.

  20. Great great post once again Paul. Sorry to hear all the bashing ur getting; so undeserved. Wish to God those Believers recognise the great work God has called you to do and that you are just helping all Believers to think and believe right and to get the revelation. Anyway, as Paul in the bible stated, they always persecute those under grace, even til now and if they did it back then, they won’t stop. Just like Abraham two sons. One was in bondage and the other, free. I really need to read ur book. I am sure it is awesome but no matter what you do, know that God is please with you; for doing a great work.

    REPENTANCE to me means stop and have a change of mind. Its like you come to ur self again like the prodigal son. We all repented when we decided to be under another master and you know what, we do continue to repent without thinking of repentance. I repented from following religion to grace. When it comes to sin, we can repent all we like. Thats a change of mind but the flesh can be weak at times and the Holy Spirit is the one that enables us to do that, not us, if we are believing right not if we are living right but just by believing. Repentance should not be the main force, but our believing should be.

    God bless


  22. Thank you a lot for this. I was having a lot of confusion in me and you really cleared things up.

    God bless you!

  23. Love reading these. But my question is; what about Christians who are living in sin as a lifestyle-are they going to Heaven or not? Did they just never really know Jesus and therefore were not saved in the first place? How does that work?

  24. This blesses my heart immensely. I’m currently going through inner healing sessions over PTSD caused by religion, and reading these every day has reinforced my sessions. I’m relearning who God is.

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