In the early church, Gnostic Christians claimed to have a “special knowledge” that set them apart as super-spiritual. Many commentators have suggested that the secessionists of 1 John were a similar group who claimed a special spirituality because of their “superior knowledge.”
As our passage today demonstrates repeatedly, true spiritual maturity lies not in claims of knowledge or personal experience of God, but in the way one lives. Knowledge of God will be demonstrated by obedience to Christ’s commands and by walking as Jesus did.
In fact, this is not a “new command” at all, but one given “since the beginning” (v. 7). The command to love God and neighbor has its roots in the Old Testament (see Deut. 6:5; 19:9). The command itself is not new, but the scope has been enlarged. The call to love has been embodied in the person of Jesus and His command to all followers: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Quite naturally, then, our reading ends by linking together obedience to God’s commands and our love for one another. Those who claim to walk in the light of Christ are identified by how they treat “a brother or sister” in Christ (v. 9). Love for others is not what brings you into a saving relationship with Christ, but it is a tangible sign of that relationship. Conversely, “anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness . . . because the darkness has blinded them” (v. 11). In short, the true test of an authentic relationship with God is not an empty claim of “knowledge,” but a life marked by obedience to Christ’s command to love one another.