Getting Real about the Christian Life audio (6MB)
John is writing to his followers in the final years of his life. You get the feeling that he thinks he’s running out of time because there’s a certain urgency to the way he writes. He doesn’t waste words. There’s no polite greeting at the start of the letter. He just gets straight to the point. This is how it is. Jesus is real. The Lord who made the universe has appeared in human flesh. God is pure light. His perfect righteousness allows for no compromise. Truth matters. All in the first few verses. Then he begins to develop his themes.
If God is light, if God is perfect righteousness, then we’d better get real about our own righteousness.
Get Real About Righteousness
So he says “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” He’ll finish this first part of ch2 with these words: “Whoever says, "I abide in him," ought to walk just as he walked.” It should be obvious shouldn’t it? If we claim to follow the perfect Son of God, if we claim to be the children of God, as John will remind us we are in the next chapter, then we should be living the same perfect life that Jesus lived. There’s no room in our life for sinful thoughts or words or actions. In fact that sort of behaviour denies our real status as God’s children.
But of course it’s not as easy as that is it? If we’re going to get real about our own righteousness then we’ll quickly acknowledge that we’ve got a lot to learn. Some may be better at not sinning than others but all of us are still on the path to righteousness. None of us have got there yet.
Some of us are new Christians, still working out what’s OK and what’s not. Others have been studying godly living for years and still get it wrong. It’s a bit like a person learning to play a musical instrument. You start off with the basics and as you improve you’re given harder and harder pieces to play. And even when you’re a master musician you’ll still be making mistakes. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist, once commented that the only difference between him and a beginner was that he was able to correct his mistakes much faster.
So what does it mean if we continue to sin, even though we claim to be followers of Jesus? Does it mean we’ve failed? I guess it does. Does it mean the gospel has failed? Not at all. In fact this is what the gospel is all about isn’t it. The gospel is for those who are failures at obeying God’s commands. See what he says: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
In the first chapter we were told to confess our sins. Now he explains what happens then. We have an advocate, a spokesperson, a representative, who’s sitting next to the Father’s throne in heaven, speaking on our behalf. He says to the Father something like this: “That Chris Appleby has done it again, but I don’t want you to punish him the way he deserves. I’ve already paid the punishment for him. He’s made himself one of my followers, he’s made me his Lord and now I stand in his place.” Jesus can sit next to the Father because he himself is righteous. That’s something I could never do in my own strength. And he died as the atoning sacrifice on my behalf. The actual word used there has the idea of a sacrifice that removes God’s anger and wrath towards the rebellious sinner. We deserve God’s anger for the way we ignore him, for the way we deliberately do what we know is against his will for us, as well as for the way we distort the truth in order to justify our behaviour. But Jesus, in his death on the cross, takes all that righteous anger on himself, leaving us spotless before God.
But that doesn’t mean I can ignore my sinful urges. No, if I claim to know God, know him in a personal way that is, to be related to him, then I’ll be a person who obeys his commandments. Those people who claimed in John’s day to have come to know God but who thought that what they did in the flesh was irrelevant, because they thought that all that mattered was the spiritual realm, were fooling themselves. John calls them liars. Those people today who claim to know God but who refuse to accept the standards of moral behaviour he’s set out in his word are likewise deluding themselves, living a lie. Often they’ll even use love as the justification for their denial of God’s standards. But see what he says there in v5: “5whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.” That’s the standard of love that we aim for - love that results in obeying God’s word. And the standard of life we aim for is to walk just as Jesus walked.
Get Real About Relationships
But living a life of righteousness isn’t just about obedience to God’s law. It’s also about our relationships.
Apparently when the apostle John got too old to preach he’d be carried in to the congregation at Ephesus and they’d ask him for a short word of encouragement. And he’d always say simply: “Little children, love one another.” When his hearers complained that they’d heard it so many times before he’d reply, “It is the Lord’s command and if this is all you do it is enough.”
And so too he writes here not giving them a new commandment but reminding them of an old one. An old one that was once new, of course, Jesus’ own ‘new commandment’. Yet, he says it is in fact a new commandment.
How is this a new commandment? If you think about it, the law of God has always been a law about love. How did Jesus sum up the 10 commandments? Love God and love your neighbour. But he says this is “a new commandment that is true in him - and in you”. How can that be? How can it be new when it’s the same as the old one? I think what he’s saying is that when Jesus comes we suddenly discover what it means to love God and our neighbour the way God intended it. Jesus brought a renewal to the law of love by showing that it could be done.
And he says that also applies to you. God has given us his Holy Spirit to renew and empower us to keep his law. He says he’s put his laws in our minds and written them on our hearts (Heb 8:10/Jer 31:33). This new commandment of Jesus is different from the old only in that it’s accompanied by the enabling power of God’s Spirit within us.
But again that puts the onus on us to live out this new reality. “9Whoever says, "I am in the light," while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” It always worries me when I hear someone complaining about someone else in the congregation. I worry even more when those complaints escalate to the level of antagonism or enmity. How can we hate another believer when we claim to have God as our Father. This is the sort of thing that’s going on in the Hancock/Rhinehart dynasty at the moment, but it has no place within the Christian family. Yet that’s what you see on occasion. When you do see it John’s conclusion is that such people have been blinded by the darkness and are no longer walking in the light.
If that situation is one that you find yourself in what are you going to do about it? You can blindly continue on your way or you can do what we were told in ch 1. You can confess your sins and ask God to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. You can ask God to help you to walk in the light in your relationships with your Christian brothers and sisters. You can walk your life the way Jesus walked, willingly bearing the sins of those who have offended you. And the reason you should do that is because of who you now are.
Get Real About Who You Are
He narrows his focus at this point to speak specifically to children, to Fathers and to young people about what really matters as far as their identity is concerned. Mind you Little Children is how he addresses the whole Church so it’s likely that he includes everyone in that expression.
But look at what he says. He says it twice in each case with minor variations. “Little children - your sins are forgiven on account of his name.” And “Little children you know the Father.” Notice there’s a progression there. Our sins are forgiven on account of the name of Jesus. Jesus of course means Saviour. Names are important in the Biblical world. So often they denote something of the person whose name it is. And none more so than Jesus himself.
When we’re known by his name it means we’ve been saved, forgiven. And when that’s the case then we’re able to come to know God the Father because Jesus brings us to him, brings us into a personal relationship with him.
Fathers, those who have reached maturity in the faith, have deepened that knowledge through their years of experience of God, and so he can say “You know him who is from the beginning.” Their years of faithful obedience leave them with no doubt that the Jesus we worship is the Jesus who was with God from the beginning. One of the things I’ve found is that the longer I’ve been a Christian the less I’ve needed reassurance that the gospel is true, that Jesus is real. I’ve seen God at work in so many different ways and in most of them only he could be the explanation for what’s happened. I hope that’s your experience if you’ve been a Christian for a long time.
And thirdly young people, those with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth, have conquered the evil one. This is the first step in the Christian walk. They’ve turned their back on the world and the devil and turned to Christ for salvation and in so doing have conquered the evil one. What’s more you’re strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. There’s a natural link there between your strength and the word of God living in you. I’m reminded of the end of Is 40: “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isa 40:30-31)
The strength that he refers to isn’t the natural strength of the young. It’s the strength of faith that comes from being firmly planted in the word of God. That’s what will defeat the evil one.
Get Real About What Matters
Finally, he says get your priorities right.
This is a word that speaks loudly to our modern age isn’t it? “15Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world.” Now ‘world’ is one of those words that John uses in a number of ways. He tells us in John 3 that God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Clearly that’s a different meaning of the word from the way he uses it here. Here he’s thinking more about the organised system of human civilisation, of society, that’s opposed to God and his rule and that’s therefore alienated from him. The world here is what we see much of the time on our televisions or in our magazines and newspapers. This is another way of talking about darkness as opposed to light.
He actually expands on what he means in the next few verses: “16for all that is in the world--the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches--comes not from the Father but from the world.” That’s not a bad description of our modern day media is it? Who are the media idols, the ones that are pointed out as the models of success? It’s the glamorous set isn’t it? The rich and powerful. The good looking, the sexy. What does our advertising promote? Beauty, success, sex, glamour. What images do our advertisers use to promote their products. It’s beautiful people, the rich and successful, sexuality and morally lax behaviour, isn’t it?
But again we need to get real about what matters in our life. Are we to follow the hedonist line of seeking out whatever brings us pleasure? If it feels good do it? That approach has a major flaw in it: “17 the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” You see the love of this world is based on another lie. That is that there is no tomorrow; that this life is all that there is. So eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. But Jesus came to remind us that God reigns in heaven. He came to warn us that a judgment awaits those who refuse to worship God in this life. He came to prepare us for life in the next, as well see in 2 weeks time.
So get your priorities right. Love of the Father is incompatible with love of the world. When you see those oh so tempting ads for the latest trend, the latest fashion item, the latest gimmick, ask yourself, is this something that will glorify the Father or just me? When you hear that commentator or celebrity or comedian poking fun at Christian beliefs and behaviour, tell yourself, this is the world trying to move me away from the firm foundation of God’s word. This is one of Satan’s ploys to weaken my faith. When your non-Christian friends start to question whether Christian moral values still apply in our enlightened world today, remember that Jesus came to tell us about God and that he is the source of all truth.
Those who choose to walk in darkness don’t know where they’re going because the darkness has blinded them.
So let’s get real about who we are, how we got here, who our family are and what really matters.
Let me finish with a quote from John Newton. He once wrote: “I am not what I ought to be, but I am not what I once was. And it is by the Grace of God that I am what I am.”