1 John 2:3-6 (NIV): We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, 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.
The standards for a Christian life that John sets forth in this letter seem too difficult to most people: to obey all of God’s commands, and to walk as Jesus did. Many theologians have spilled gallons of ink trying to figure out how much sin God will allow in a believer’s life, because they begin with the premise that living a genuinely holy life in this world is impossible; literally walking as Jesus did, in uninterrupted communion with God the Father, is unrealistic. And so many have come to believe that John is merely using hyperbole here – exaggerating the standards in order to show how important it is to “try” to live a holy life.
But those theologians are missing the point. If a person merely strives to do right in their own strength, if they try to obey all of God’s commands in their own power, if they attempt to walk as Jesus did by following a set of rules and procedures, then yes, they are doomed to failure. The best they can hope for is a self-righteous Pharasaism, which Paul described as “rubbish” (literally “dung”) in Philippians 3:4b-9, and which Isaiah likened to “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
But John correctly identifies the keys that make this genuine righteousness and holiness of heart and action possible: to genuinely know Jesus – meaning to have a real heart relationship with Him (2:3); and to live, or abide, in Jesus – to be completely immersed in His life (2:6). When we truly come into a relationship with Jesus through repentance and faith, God’s Spirit comes into our hearts, and changes them in an instant. This is the “new creation” that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:17. That transformation of our hearts enables us to truly live in God (which Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-23), where we can remain, living our life in true communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From that moment forward, it becomes possible for us to really live a righteous life, not in our own strength, but because God’s Spirit is living in us, guiding us, directing us, and empowering us to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13 NIV) With that empowerment, we really can obey God’s commands (His arm is not too short!); His love really is made complete in us; and we really can walk as Jesus walked, in uninterrupted communion with Him.
Father, I see how, if we try to be righteous and Christlike on our own, we are doomed to failure. But if we allow You to literally transform us from the inside out, the power of Your Holy Spirit living through us will transform our actions as well as our hearts. Help us all to live out this reality, starting today! Amen.