Knowledge is a bit intoxicating. It is a powerful elixir that quickly convinces us we have it together much more than we really do. Those drunk of the power of the mind are every bit as dangerous as those drunk on booze.
Knowledge was especially important to the early Gnostics that had been influencing the churches John was addressing. As was pointed out yesterday, the name “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge.” This would appear to be your typical head-knowledge, the kind that satisfies if one simply knows the facts. A good Gnostic “knew” the truth about reality: physical flesh is evil, and true enlightenment comes by developing a spirit that is impervious to the effects of physical sin. The most “knowledgeable” one can wallow around in sin and come out unscathed.
However, John has a very different view:
This is how we are sure that we have known him, if we keep his commandments. Anyone who says, “I know him,” but doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar. People like that have no truth in them. . . . Anyone who says, “I am in the light,” while hating another family member, is still in darkness up to this very moment. (2:3-4, 9)
The kind of truth that John thinks is important is not simply head-knowledge. It is not enough to know facts and believe things to be true or not true. For John, truth is a lived reality. Knowledge is first and foremost lived out in the nitty-gritty of life. One shows their enlightenment by how they live, not how they think. One can claim to have spiritual enlightenment, but if actions do not exist that support that claim, one is still living in immense spiritual darkness. In particular, the selfless love of Christian community is the greatest testament to true enlightenment. Honoring God with a life that keeps his righteous decrees for life shows true knowledge. Knowledge teaches one to stay in the light with Jesus, not roll around in the darkness in sin.