An often forgotten message of the gospel is that it empowers us to live free from the burdens of sin. You may be thinking: “but you don’t know what I’ve done, the mistakes I’ve made.” Let me tell you this, God used a murderer, a man named Saul whose name was changed to Paul, to lead the missions efforts of the early church. Do you think God can use you? Paul firmly believed, that despite even his ongoing struggles, that God would prevail. So when you sin, confess and repent. And aim to live a life free from sin.
You’re not alone in this: you can seek accountability, someone to regularly ask you how things are going, that you can be real and honest with. You can grow as a Christian in community. There is no shame, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
But it is in the denial of sin that we show that we are Jesus’ followers. First John 2:3–6 (NIV) reads:
“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
So John tells us to live like Jesus did, that means resisting the pull of evil on our lives. On this point, the author of Hebrews says:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one [Jesus] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was tempted, like us, as a human and prevailed. So know that he is there to listen, understanding of our weaknesses. He wants a better life for you but he is also gracious and loving.
But what are these commands that we should aim to keep? Usually we think of keeping commands as abstaining from something, what we don’t do. But John tells us that Jesus’ command is also about what we should do. In 1 John 2:7–11 (NIV), he says:
“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”
John tells us that his new command is actually old. It is old in the sense that it has been around since Moses first wrote the Law. It is new in the sense that it is now understood in light of Jesus, as an integral part of what it means to follow God. This commandment is to love your “brother and sister;” this is how one “lives in the light.” This is also new in the sense that it is now understood as loving to the point that we are willing to lay down our lives for another person, as Jesus laid down his life for us. On this, Jesus says:
“A new command I give you:
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another … Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 13:34–35; 15:13).
This is the fourth truth: Light is in the world, fighting the darkness, through the self-sacrificial actions of Jesus’ followers.
This is not the way people in our world live. We live in a every person for him or herself sort of world. At most, it’s every family for themselves.
But John calls us to look at the “whole world” as that which Jesus wishes to redeem (1 John 2:2). And we are to be advocates of this sort of self-sacrificial love. This is how darkness and hate loses, with light and love. This is the trajectory of the true story of the whole world that God is telling.
Because this is such a great contrast, John says in 1 John 2:15–17 (NIV):
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
John confirms that we should resist the desires “of the flesh:” pride, sex out of context of marriage, and many other things that could be added to this list. So discipline, as a Christian, is to be desired. This doesn’t mean that human nature is bad, but instead John is juxtaposing the way things are commonly done in the world with God’s ways. He is saying there is a truth to the light and darkness dualism. There is a real war here between what the Holy Spirit desires for our lives and the human realm, culture, pulling us in a different direction.
John reminds us that this is not what is eternal, but instead God and those who enter into relationship with Jesus will last forever. The battle is temporary.
And this is the fifth truth that is often forgotten in our dualistic, two powers metaphor: That there are not two powers in heaven, but one supreme power! That power is God! Satan and Jesus are not equals. Instead, Christ is victor and this is where we find eternal victory.
It is in light of this that John says in his poem in 1 John 2:12–14 (NIV):
“I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.”
We have overcome the evil one, because there are not two powers. Hate and love may be at war today, but the love of Christ is victor! This is because there is only one power in heaven and that is God. Live love. Fight the power of hate with it. It is this way that we keep darkness at bay.