“But if anyone obeys his words, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5-6).
These words in John’s first epistle may seem so simple! Yet, these are also quite challenging words because it entails much. It entails a faith that is totally committed to God.
As we begin to look at this passage, what is John communicating? The first thing that we must consider is the gravity of being a disciple of Jesus. We live in a very self-indulgent world. We love our things, we love the world, and the things of this world. As I have been a pastor for a very long time, I have noticed that many in the church are not immune. How often do even those who claim to be redeemed straddle life with a foot both in the heavenly and the profane? The problem is, this is an impossible prospect. Growing up in a family that enjoyed fishing, my father had a boat, nothing as elaborate as the boats that I see on lakes today, but it was an aluminum boat with a small horsepower, outboard motor. It wasn’t an “eye-catcher”, but it served its purpose. My father was also an avid trout fisher. In New Hampshire, there was a trout season…and my dad lived for opening day.
I remember one day he backed the boat in by the dock of the “lake” (actually a large pond would be more accurate) and told me to put one foot in the boat and keep one foot on the dock and not to let the boat drift out past the dock. After these instructions, he took the truck and trailer to park. Now, understand, at the age this incident occurred, I may have weighed 60 pounds soaking wet. The parking lot was busy because my father wasn’t the only one who lived for opening day of trout season. In his delay, the boat began to drift further from the dock. There I was pulling with all my might to keep that boat near the dock…and not leave the dock myself. By now you can probably see where this story is going: in a short time, I could not stretch any further and I didn’t have the strength to pull that boat in…and on a very chilly March morning…I eventually found myself, boots, coat, mittens and all…going into the lake. And I can tell you, it was very cold. I couldn’t keep my foot on both the boat and the dock…I simply did not have the strength.
That is exactly the way it is with the “Christian” who tries to live with a foot firmly planted in both the spiritual and the world. We simply do not have the strength to keep the two worlds together, nor should we. They are very diametrically opposed to one another…and in all honesty – eventually we will fall. Thus, as John alludes to – the kingdom entails a complete commitment and one in which a disciple of Jesus must be striving fully after. This includes a forsaking of everything of the world.
This is what John means in the second part of this passage. If someone claims that they are a follower of Jesus, they must look like Jesus! How is that accomplished? By walking just as Jesus did. By being faithful and obedient to God and God’s ways. The reality is: we either look far closer to the world by what we say, what we do, and what we cling on to, or we look like Jesus by forsaking the things of this world and clinging tenaciously to him.
That’s the rub, particularly in American culture. We want all of the benefits of being a follower (to include the eternal life part), without all the cost! Let’s be honest, if we are to honestly walk as Jesus walked – that means we are carrying a cross. Pure and simple. But how many people bail out as soon as being a Christian seems like it is going to be too costly? How many people like their comfortable faith? There is nothing comfortable about faith! It is either constantly challenging me to grow and go deeper, or it is stagnant. And stagnant faith is no faith at all.
The beginning of this passage reminds us of something. The love of Jesus in us – deeply rooted in us, doesn’t happen by itself, nor does it happen overnight. The true love of Jesus – the one that is so intertwined with the Object of that love – only happens as we become less and he becomes more in our lives. That only comes by being obedient. Think of us as a sponge – dry, parched, sponges – the kind that have been sitting in a garage for five years. In order for that sponge to become useful…it needs to be filled, it needs to become saturated. Only as it sits in water, will it take on the water to bring it back to life.
Our hearts are like that sponge. They are dry in our sinfulness. It is only as we drink from the Water of Life, that the dryness of our hearts become saturated with Jesus’ love. That love becomes so evident to those around us. We have a peace where others do not. We have hope when others seem lost. We have compassion and empathy when the rest of the world lacks it. We love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength and seek after him and his ways with everything we are…leaving the worldly things behind. We also learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not in a superficial way nor a way that accepts everything. But genuinely loves our neighbor with a desire for them to know the Lord and repent of their sins in order to find life. That is love! That kind of love only comes as we walk closely with our Lord, every day, coming to the cool of the Garden and allowing him to shape us and use us as we will. Are we willing to offer all we are and all we have in order to have that love in our lives?