John says so much in such a little space, but his main points seem to be two: Jesus Christ is the propitiation of sins for those who turn to Him, and if anyone knows God and loves Him, he will keep His commandments.
Both seem to be an amplification of John’s gospel from Chapter 1. They are another way of saying that we are to walk in the light and have fellowship with the Father.
John offers a two-fold antidote for the sin that so easily traps us and leads us away from God. First, we should obey God’s commandments, for if we do we will not sin. Second, if we do sin, we should plead for forgiveness in the name of Christ, for He is the propitiation for our sins.
It’s not as if we’re in a tag-team wrestling match, on the same side as Jesus. It’s not as if we begin the match and wrestle the world, the flesh, and the Devil and only when we are in danger of getting pinned that we reach out and slap Jesus’ hand so that He can take over. No, it is the righteousness of Jesus that saves us from the beginning. It is only through His perfect righteousness and the grace He gives through His perfect sacrifice that we are able to keep His commandments in the first place.
We have a very wrong idea about love in our culture. If you mention “love” to most people, the first thought they are likely to have is one about erotic or romantic love. But John, the apostle of love, has a different view. For him, love is obedience to God: “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.”
The test of love and the test of our walking with God is our obedience to Him. “He who says he abides in Him ought Himself also to walk just as He walked.” There are so many Christians who sing about being in love with Jesus. They close their eyes tightly and wave their hands and feel good inside and just love Jesus. For them, this is how they know they have worshiped Him and that they love Him, as what He really said was, “If you love me, you will show intense emotion at a particular moment.”
But the true measure of love is our obedience to God. The true measure is if we walk as He walked, giving up self in love and service to others and perfectly keeping the commandments of the Father. Make no mistake, there is great joy, too, in walking as He walked, but what counts is the obedience of our heart.
Love may, in fact, take the form of an ecstatic joy in the presence of the Lord. But John says that the truest measure is our obedience to God. We shouldn’t measure our love primarily by our emotional states but by how we actually live. It is no good “loving” God on Sunday morning worship and then loving the world the rest of the week.John’s words are a stark challenge to American Christianity: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” John doesn’t mean loving the world as in loving the good things God created: we’re supposed to do that. But John means loving the things of the fallen world, the things that proceed from love of self, from pride, from lust, from laziness, and from greed.
The real test of love is how well we walk with Jesus in obedience, in giving up our things in love to God and to others. True love has such a fierce attachment to God, and yes it is partially emotional, that it will constantly be found giving up itself and its things and constantly serving others.
Love may take the form of an ecstatic, scrunched up face. But more likely it will take the form of the agony of the Cross. The joy of love comes not from some mystical feeling that the right crowd and the right kind of music and lighting can muster up but from truly walking in the light, which means obedience, which often is sacrificial and hurts. But when done with and through the Son, it is pure joy.
In our desire to love God by obeying Him, we will often fail. We will continue to sin, in spite of our love. When we do, the way back is the way we began: by throwing ourselves on the mercy of God, confessing our sins, turning from them, and going back to walking in His ways. If would be truly frightening to think that my abiding in God was only up to me. One sin would then do me in, and I’d have no way back.
But the amazing thing is that no matter how imperfect I am in loving God and walking in His light, Jesus is always perfect in His obedience to the Father. Whether obeying or repenting from disobedience, loving God means turning to the Son for all things.
So then, love God by keeping His commandments, through the righteousness and love and power of the Son. And when you sin, ask the same Son for forgiveness, for He is the propitiation for your sins.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for being my Advocate with the Father. Thank You for being my righteousness when I had none, and thank You for taking away not only my sins but also the sins of the whole world. Help me to love You more by obeying You more completely. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Examine yourself by slowly meditating on the Ten Commandments. Remember that to be angry is to murder, to lust is to commit adultery, and that stealing from God does not necessarily mean robbing a 7-11 store.
- Meditate on St. John’s words to “little children,” “fathers,” and “young men.” As you meditate on his comfortable words, receive the forgiveness and encouragement of God found in them.
Resolution: I resolve to examine how well I have been loving God by obeying Him. If I know of any unconfessed sins, I will confess them. As I examine myself, if I hear the Lord calling me to understand more deeply my attachment to the world, I will listen.
Prodigal Son, Francesco Bassano the Younger – U.S. Public Domain