[serialposts]Read 1 John 2:28-3:10 (ESV, NIV, The Message).
As a child my instructions were to keep my room clean especially around Christmas time. I had this idea that Santa’s elves were omniscient. With this thought, I hastily shoved toys, old socks and smelly shoes under the bed and deep into the darkest corners of my closet. Every Christmas toys would appear under the tree in spite of my lack of obedience to the heart of my mother’s instruction. In John’s time, the (NIV Study Bible, Zondervan) Gnostics of the “Cerinthian variety” were very “libertine, throwing off all moral restraints.”
1 John 2:29 reads, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” The moment we ask Christ into our lives marks the moment when our lives will change and transform over time. This means that I can no longer shove my sins underneath the bed and into the dark corners of my closet, while expecting Him, the holiest of holies, to overlook or dismiss it and give me my toys anyway. Recently, a debate on Facebook took me by surprise.
A person re-interpreted the Bible making one particular sin an exception. In other words, she didn’t see something as a sin when the Bible was very clear about that and all the other sins. That’s the problem with our society. Living fruitful lives as a child of God is mentioned throughout the Bible (Colossians 1:10; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 1:11, and others), but we need to be careful about bearing rotten fruit due to bad teaching. Matt Mikalatos in My Imaginary Jesus, said, “If you never confront the imaginary Jesus, he’ll keep popping up, perverting what you know about the real Jesus. You need to look him in the face, recognize that he’s fake, and renounce him.” We need to be careful that we are allowing good teaching. God teaches some tough lessons we may not always wish to hear. And elves aren’t omniscient.
God is omniscient. 1 John goes on in verses 29 through 3:1 with John assuring us of the righteousness of our Father’s love. We are loved. We are His children and as His children we should obey Him because we love Him. Obedience is holy. Verses 3:7-10 says, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”
John is not talking about “sinless perfection.” A child of God is not characterized by hiding our sins or flaunting our sins, but by “doing what is right (NIV Study notes).” Sin feels like you just put on those smelly socks from underneath the bed and came to the realization that they haven’t been washed in two weeks. You’re still making mistakes, but you’re striving to live forgiven. I’m not sure a large part of Christian America loves the real God. They prefer a God soft on sinners and reject some biblical truths to justify any sin.
I like how Randy Alcorn puts it in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, “If we are going to discard the doctrine of eternal punishment because it feels profoundly unpleasant to us, then it seems fair to ask what other biblical teachings we will also reject, because they too don’t square with what we feel. And if we do this, are we not replacing authority of Scripture with authority of our feelings, or our limited understanding?”
The elves don’t care if we disobey the heart of our parent’s rule to clean our room. God cares that we obey Him in word and action out of the love we have in our heart for Him. He knows the sins we think He doesn’t see, and He can’t bless us if we live disobedient lives. Our Father has asked us to clean out our hearts. What will that look like in each of our lives?
At least two theological traditions (Eastern Orthodox and Wesleyan) hold to a kind of Christian perfection. For the Orthodox it’s part of the process called ‘theosis’ (which means becoming god-like) and ties in to their doctrine of salvation, for the Wesleyan’s it’s usually called ‘holiness’ (but often misunderstood as ‘legalism’). Of course, I think perfection has to be understood properly – which means that the typical moral ideas need to go, at least as the primary definition. Since ‘holiness’ refers a lot less to God’s moral categories and a lot more to his wholly-otherness (a la Barth) perfection (a process we are called to via participation with/in Christ) is an eternal process. Some (the Orthodox, for example) hold that *some* measure of perfection/holiness/theosis can be attained here on earth – Wesley had similar thoughts.