In John’s first epistle it says, He who professes to know Him, and yet does not obey His commands, is a liar, and the truth has no place in his heart. But whoever obeys His Message, in him love for God has in very deed reached perfection. By this we can know that we are in Him (1 John 2:4-5). This seems straight forward – and in line with the theme of my previous articles; the true Christian life is one of obedience. Anything less is a sham.
Yet in the very same epistle, John instructs us in the way of forgiveness for transgressing God’s law. Most of us are familiar with 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is so faithful and just that He forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. This is a wonderful promise, but how do we reconcile it with the blunt language found later in the letter?
In a nut shell, John recognizes – like the Apostle Paul – that we have not been perfected nor laid hold of that for which Jesus has laid hold of us (Philippians 3:12). Ours is a life of running the race not of having already won. At the same time, no one runs a race successfully unless they follow the rules. No one is even competitive in the race unless they work hard at lay[ing] aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
Too many Christians are looking for the loop holes and, before anything else, asking how to clean up after a sin. Yet, the message of John’s epistle is that the true Christian doesn’t think of anything other than how to do what is right. He seeks first the kingdom and considers how he can best serve the Lord and the Brethren. If he does stumble, he is quick to ask forgiveness – but his focus is not on the wrong, his focus is on how to do what is right.
It has been said that Christianity is not a religion of avoiding wrong but of aggressively doing what is right. This attitude is found among those who are sold out for the kingdom. Folks who are excited about living a life of submission to Jesus Christ are not drawn aside by sin. Stumbling is infrequent and only occurs at an unguarded moment. This is foreign to those who maintain a halfhearted commitment to Christ.
Suppose you were on a walking tour of the Florida everglades and just as you were ready to cross a particular stretch of swamp your guide announced, “As you follow me, be sure to step in the exact place I step. Step only on the stones I step on. Don’t get out of line, and don’t let your foot slip into the swamp. Now let’s go!” The wise tourist would be careful to do exactly as told. Foolish followers wouldn’t pay attention, thinking if they slip up they can shake the water of their feet and keep going – or at worst, the guide will have some “fix” for their situation. Little do they know, the swamp is infested with hungry alligators ready to grab anyone who steps out of line. You get the picture.
Christians are expected to do exactly as the Lord commands. Walking in righteousness is supposed to be the norm. It is presented as the only choice because the alternative is too costly to consider. Thus, the virtuous walk begins with an attitude; there is no alternative to walking as Jesus walked.