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Even before we come to the question, What does God want of me? many of us may begin with another question, How can I be sure that I know God? Many faithful Christians struggle with this question. How do I know I'm a Christian? How can I be sure that I do indeed know God? How can I know that I'm not mistaken? The Elder assures his readers that they can have con fidence before God. The confidence that he promises is not a subjective feeling or emotion. It is not necessarily equivalent to feeling good about ourselves. Confidence comes from knowing what God asks of us, and knowing that our aim is to live in conformity with God's standard. Now surely this sounds like a recipe to trouble souls, rather than for calming the troubled soul. And yet John speaks with encouragement and assur ance as he promises we know that we have come to know him. Where does he derive such assurance?
The statement we know that we have come to know him is the first of many such statements offering assurance to the readers of the epistle (2:5; 3:19, 24; 5:2, 15; compare 2:18, 21, 29; 3:21; 4:13; 5:14, 18-20). Here the author is surely casting a glance at those who have left the church, for they undoubtedly claimed to know God. How does one decide between such personal and conflicting claims? Anyone can claim to know God. Is there a way to begin to assess that claim?
The Elder offers the "test" of obedience as the basis of having assur ance of knowing God. Those who know God are obedient to the com mands of God. And yet such a test scarcely seems calculated to offer the needed assurance to the readers! After all, John has just finished writing of the sinfulness of all people (1:8—2:2). Can one really depend, then, on one's obedience to God's commands to give assurance of right re lationship to God? This idea is so central to 1 John that we must examine it more closely.