The Test Exemplified
the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (2:6)
The only person who can pass the test of obedience and realize full assurance is the one who … abides in Him—because Jesus Christ is the perfect role model for obeying the Father. In John 15:4–5 Jesus commanded,
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (cf. vv. 10–11)
Believers draw spiritual life from the Lord Jesus Christ, even as branches do from a vine. To abide in Christ is to remain in Him—not a temporary, superficial attachment, but a permanent, deep connection (cf. Luke 9:23; John 6:53–65; Phil. 1:6; 2:11–13). Such authentic abiding in the Savior characterizes those who “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that [they] have heard” (Col. 1:23; cf. 2:7; Eph. 3:17), because they are truly regenerate—new creatures who possess irrevocable eternal life.
John made it perfectly clear that those who claim to abide in Christ must walk in the same manner as He walked. Walk is a metaphor for daily conduct by believers (1:7; John 8:12; 12:35; Rom. 6:4; 8:4; 1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 2:10; 4:1; 5:2, 8; Col. 1:10; 2:6; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:1; 2 John 6; cf. Mark 7:5). The Lord Himself perfectly exemplified this principle during His earthly ministry. In every way He obeyed His Father’s will:
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38)
“And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29)
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:17–18)
“So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” (John 14:31)
Obviously, believers’ obedience will not be perfect, as Jesus’ was. Nonetheless, He established the perfect pattern they are to follow. If anyone claims to know Him and abide in Him, it will be evident in his life. He will walk in the light—in the realm of truth and holiness—and guard (obey) His commandments because of his passionate love for the truth and the Lord of the truth. Therein lies the key to real assurance of salvation.
Conclusion (v. 6)
This conclusion also comes to Christians living in our own time. Do we say we are Christians? Then “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” The call is to emulate Jesus in our conduct. “Earlier,” as Calvin said, “he had set the light of God before us as an example. Now he calls us also to Christ, to imitate him. Yet he does not simply exhort us to the imitation of Christ, but, from the union we have with him, proves we should be like him.”
To walk as Christ walked is to live, not by rules, but by an example. It is to follow him, to be his disciple. Such a discipleship is personal, active, and costly. It is personal because it cannot be passed off to another. Indeed, we are to find ourselves with Christ, as Peter did following the resurrection. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter replied, “Yes,” he was told, “Feed my sheep.” This was repeated three times, and it began to irritate Peter. So to escape Christ’s careful probing, he turned to John, the beloved disciple, who was apparently standing some distance away, and asked, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” In other words, there was no escaping the call to a personal discipleship for Peter.
To walk as Christ walked is also active because the Lord himself is active. To be inactive is to be left behind.
Finally, it is costly as well, because the path that Jesus walked is the path to crucifixion. It leads to glory, but before that it leads to the cross. Such a path can be walked only by the one who has died to self and who has deliberately taken up the cross of Christ to follow him.
Such a one, whether in John’s day or our own, will always have confidence before God and will be sure that he knows him. Here Dodd concludes most perceptively,
In this passage our author is not only rebutting dangerous tendencies in the Church of his time, but discussing a problem of perennial importance, that of the validity of religious experience. We may have the feeling of awareness of God, of union with him, but how shall we know that such experience corresponds to reality? It is clear that no amount of clearness or strength in the experience itself can guarantee its validity, any more than the extreme vividness of a dream leads us to suppose that it is anything but a dream. If, however, we accept the revelation of God in Christ, then we must believe that any experience of God which is valid has an ethical quality defined by what we know of Christ. It will carry with it a renewed fidelity to his teaching and example. The writer does not mean that only those who perfectly obey Christ and follow his example can be said to have experience of God. That would be to affirm the sinlessness of Christians in a sense which he has repudiated. But unless the experience includes a setting of the affections and will in the direction of the moral principles of the Gospel, it is no true experience of God, in any Christian sense.
There is more to be said, of course, as Dodd also indicates. In fact, more is to be said in the verses following, but thus far the test of one’s experience holds. By the test of righteousness we may know that we know God and may assure our hearts before him.
6. He that saith he abideth in him. As he has before set before us God as light for an example, he now calls us also to Christ, that we may imitate him. Yet he does not simply exhort us to imitate Christ; but from the union we have with him, he proves that we ought to be like him. A likeness in life and deeds, he says, will prove that we abide in Christ. But from these words he passes on to the next clause, which he immediately adds respecting love to the brethren.
6 While the language of this verse is grammatically similar to that of v. 4, it seems John is now offering a maxim to validate the two tests in vv. 4–5. While v. 3 focused on the need to obey Jesus’ teaching, v. 6 emphasizes the need to live by his example. The person who claims to remain in Jesus “ought to walk just as he walked” (NIV, “must walk as Jesus did”), meaning that the true believer’s life will be patterned after the example of Jesus.
The maxim in v. 6 describes the person who “claims to live in him.” The Greek word menō (NIV, “live”; GK 3531) is a key term in Johannine thought. Menō literally means “remain,” “stay,” or “abide,” and John sometimes uses the term in this general sense to imply endurance or durability (cf. Rensberger, 62–63). He warns believers, for example, to “see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you” in the face of the threat of the Antichrists (2:24) and tells the “chosen lady” that “the truth which remains in us will be with us forever” (2 Jn 2; NIV, “the truth, which lives in us …”).
Other passages indicate that menō is a codeword for several key points in Johannine theology. It is frequently used in the fourth gospel to describe “the relationship of mutual indwelling of the Father, the Son, and the believer” (W. L. Kynes, “Abiding,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel Green et al. [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992], 2). The Father abides in Jesus, empowering his work (Jn 14:10), and will also abide in those who love Jesus and obey his teaching (14:23). The disciples, in turn, must abide in Jesus, apparently meaning that they must live by his word in order to maintain their relationship with him. It is through this process of mutual indwelling that Jesus gives believers life and power to accomplish his work (15:4–9). This special relationship gives an eschatological dimension to Christian experience. Those who remain with Jesus faithfully throughout their lives will “abide [NIV, live] forever” because they have escaped from the world and its desires (1 Jn 2:17). First John 2:6 highlights the ethical obligation that follows from this relationship: if we truly abide in Jesus, this will be evident in the way we live our lives. All those who do not live this way “abide in death” (1 Jn 3:14; NIV, “remain in death”).
2:6 / The Elder’s answer is a practical one: walk as Jesus did. This verse contains the fifth stated claim of the Elder’s opponents, the secessionists, who had denied the full humanity of Jesus (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7) and separated themselves from the community (1 John 2:19). They claim to live in him. Actually, the Greek original is stronger: they claim to abide or to dwell (menō) in him. Menō means to live in an ongoing, close, personal relationship with God/Christ. It parallels to live in “fellowship with him” (1:6), to “walk in the light” (1:7), “to know him” (2:3–5), and “we are in him” (2:5). The Elder’s opponents claimed to have this profound relationship with God/Christ unbroken by sin (1:8, 10), whereas the believer confesses sin (1:9) and counts on Christ as advocate (niv, “one who speaks … in our defense” [2:1]) and “atoning sacrifice” (2:2).
The Elder insists that the opponents’ claim be tested by a life in imitation of Jesus. You must walk as Jesus did. This test, he is convinced, they cannot pass, because they do not keep God’s commands (2:3–4), as Jesus did. Above all, they do not love as Jesus loved (John 13:34). “The test of our religious experience is whether it produces a reflection of the life of Jesus in our daily life; if it fails this elementary test, it is false” (Marshall, Epistles, p. 128).
6. Now comes the explicit statement of the second version of the Christian claim to know God: it is the assurance of “abiding” (continuously) in him. (For the use and meaning of μένειν, “to abide,” in John, see the comment on v 5; and for its occurrence in 1 John see also Malatesta, Interiority, especially 24–36, 133). But how may the genuineness of such a claim be judged? The answer is that “the test for the reality of the experience of union with God in Christ is the imitation of Christ” (Dodd, 32). The claim, and its attached condition, form in effect an applied example of the principle enunciated in v 5a: “in anyone who obeys his word God’s love has really reached fulfillment.”
ὁ λέγων ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν, “anyone who claims to abide in him.” The second version of the assertion about knowing God has already been introduced in v 5, once more using γινώσκομεν (literally, “we know”): “this is how we can be sure” (plural, as in v 3). The citation of the claim itself, however, uses the singular form, ὁ λέγων (as in v 4): “anyone who claims (to abide in him).” Possibly this reflects the quotation of an actual slogan which individuals were using (cf. also v 9).
But what was the precise nature of the claim? The phrase “to abide in him” (ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν) seems once again to refer, in the first place, to God; and this would follow naturally from the reference to God in v 5a, and the obviously parallel phrase ἐν αὐτῷ ἐσμεν (“we exist in him”) in v 5b. However, it is fairly certain that, as before, we cannot exclude a reference to Jesus from this sentence; and, indeed, perhaps we should regard the primary reference as christocentric. (Dodd, 32, takes “him,” [ἐν] αὐτῷ, as standing exclusively for Christ here.)
Two further points support such a view. One is that the allusion in the remaining part of this verse is clearly to Jesus (see below). Secondly, it is possible that the claim to “abide in him” was derived directly from the Fourth Gospel by (docetic?) ex-members of the Johannine community who were not concerned about the ethical responsibilities involved in such an assertion (see the comment on the parallel claim in v 4). In this case the passage drawn upon would, obviously, be John 15:1–7. Note especially v 4, “remain in me (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί), and I will remain in you.”
A refinement of thought thus seems to be involved in vv 5b–6. The reference to “existing in him” (v 5b) is primarily to God, but includes Jesus; the predominant meaning of “abiding in him” (v 6a) is probably “abiding in Jesus,” but this cannot exclude God; and the subject of “he lived” περιεπάτησεν, v 6b), is Jesus himself. For all his readers, including those (ex-Jewish Christians?) who may have been inclined to regard Jesus as no more than a man, John makes it clear that the ultimate knowledge of God the Father is disclosed through Jesus his Son.
For the verb μένειν (ἐν), “to abide (in),” see the comment on v 5. The use of this word represents a climactic development in the thought of the present passage. In v 4 the writer speaks of “knowing” God in Christ; in v 5b the allusion is to “existing” in him; and here the reference focuses on “abiding” in God through Jesus the Christ. The use of μένειν at this point suggests an intensely personal knowledge of God; it presupposes an intimate and committed relationship with him, through Jesus, which is both permanent and continuous. To abide “in (ἐν) Jesus,” moreover, indicates a close and ongoing relationship between the Father and the Son (cf. John 15:10); it guarantees eternal life; and it provides the power for living ethically as a believer. Thus “abiding in Christ” is used by John interchangeably with “Christ abiding in the believer” (cf. 3:24; John 14:20–21; 15:4–5). On the formula “in him” (ἐν αὐτῷ) in this passage see further Schnackenburg, 105–10.
ὀφείλει καθὼς … περιπατεῖν, “must (live) … as he lived.” For any Christian to say, “I am abiding (habitually) in God through Jesus,” is perfectly acceptable. However, John warns his readers, and in particular those with heretical and antinomian inclinations, that such an assertion by itself is insufficient. As with the broad claim to “know God” (v 4), ethical obligations are included (cf. vv 3, 5). Thus the test of “abiding” in him is, as before, whether or not the claimant is living a life of obedience to God. For this he is obliged to do. The force of ὀφείλει, “he must,” is almost “he binds himself” (so neb).
The particular aspect of obedience mentioned on this occasion is Christlikeness. “He himself must live as Jesus lived.” In other words, the life of the believer must be consistent not only with the assertion that he abides in the Godhead, but also with the life of Jesus himself. For the verb περιπατεῖν (literally, “to walk”), as a synonym for “to live,” see the comments on 1:6–7.
The reference of ἐκεῖνος (“he”) in the phrase καθὼς ἐκεῖνος περιεπάτησεν (literally, “as that one walked”), is clearly to Jesus; for the pronoun ἐκεῖνος in 1 John always refers to him (cf. 3:3, 5, 7, 16; 4:17; also John 7:11; 9:12, 28; 19:21). In the words “live as he lived” the writer is obviously alluding to the earthly activity of Jesus (cf. Acts 10:38); and this is interesting because in 1 John such historical allusion is rare.
The way in which John refers, however elliptically, to the historical life of Jesus here, presupposes that his readers had some factual information on which to base the imitation of Christ which is being advocated. If so, the chief source for this would presumably be the Fourth Gospel itself, which was probably written earlier (see the introduction, xxii). This Gospel, as a growing consensus of scholarship now recognizes, reflects a background of authentic, historical tradition about the earthly ministry of Jesus. See Smalley, John, especially 9–40.
This is the obligation, therefore, laid personally upon every Christian (note the force of αὐτός, “he himself”): not only to obey God’s orders, his word (vv 4–5), but also to follow the example of his Son (v 6). “We cannot claim to abide in him unless we behave like him” (Stott, 92). It is not only a matter of discipleship, but also of obedient discipleship; and this is expressed by habitually imitating Christ. As Jesus lived (περιεπάτησεν, aorist), so must the Christian himself live (ὀφείλει αὐτὸς περιπατεῖν, “he must himself live,” where the infinitive suggests a present, repeated action). In the Johannine writings καθώς (“as”) relates to the life of Christ as both a model to be imitated, and as the means for that imitation to become a possibility (cf. 3:2; 4:17; John 13:15, 34; 15:12, 17). So Malatesta, Interiority, 134; see also O. de Dinechin, RSR 58 (1970) 233–36.
The idea of imitatio Christi (“the imitation of Christ”) appears elsewhere in 1 John. See 3:16, where the sacrificial reference to “giving up life,” as part of the imitation, may connect with 2:2 (“he is himself the offering for our sins”; cf. John 10:11, 15, 17); note also 3:2 (imitation is a dynamic process, a goal not yet achieved). Cf. also John 13:15; Phil 2:5–11; 1 Pet 2:21. On this idea in the NT generally, including John, see Smalley, Themelios 3 (1965) 13–22, especially 16–17.
2:6 Therefore, whoever says he abides in Him should walk just as the Lord Jesus walked. His life, as set forth in the Gospels, is our pattern and guide. It is not a life which we can live in our own strength or energy, but is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is to turn our lives over to Him unreservedly, and allow Him to live His life in and through us.
2:6 abides in Him: Abiding is habitual obedience. It has the idea of settling down in Christ or resting in Him. It is evidenced by a life modeled after Christ. A Christian may fail to abide in Christ as evidenced by His repeated commands to abide in John 15:4–10. ought … to walk: The admonition to live by the teaching of Jesus reveals that this conformity comes from us. Slaves must follow the commands of their masters or they will be punished. Employees need to do their work to keep their jobs. However, the Christian as a child of God ought to obey God because of a sincere desire to do so. It should be a joy to follow in the footsteps of the One who died for us.
2:6 — He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
An intimate relationship with Christ makes it both possible and appealing for us to obey God, just as Jesus did. If we think of salvation as an invitation to sin—“He’ll forgive me anyway”—we’re on the wrong track.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2312). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Jn 2:6). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.