1 John 5:1-6
Thoughts on the Word:
1 john 5:1-6 (NRSV)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
John 15:9-17 (NRSV)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Today I want us to consider a message that is consistent throughout the both our reading from the 1st letter of St John and our Gospel reading (and also consistent throughout the entirety of scripture). Our consistent message in both readings is that our love of God is demonstrated through obeying his commandments. So how does that sit with us as Christians who are not under the Law but under grace as explained by St Paul (Romans 6:14)? Well let's consider for a moment what being under grace means, and why it does not free us from our obligation to follow the commandments of God.
The grace of God is what saves us from the consequences of our sin. It is through the grace of God alone that we are saved, and we receive that grace through placing our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus. The Grace of God is granted to us through faith in order to cover our sins - we are forgiven for for trespassing against God's commands. It is something that we often take for granted - we hear Christians say it all the time -'I'm forgiven', 'I'm saved'. The problem is we don't often take the time to consider the fact that if we are sinners that need forgiveness, then there must still be a code of law in effect which we sin against. The commandments of God haven't gone anywhere, they are still in effect. Jesus himself told us that he did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them (Matt: 5:17). We must remember then that the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross did not remove our obligation to follow the Commandments - what it does is cover our transgressions when we fail to follow them, it enables us to to enter the Kingdom of Heaven on the basis that Jesus opened the door for us through His redeeming sacrifice, and not through our own works. This is important because it is not possible for us to fulfil any of the commandments of God completely, all of the time.
Now some will say 'well hang on, I have never killed anyone, so I have fulfilled that commandment' or 'I have never cheated on my husband/wife, so I have fulfilled the commandment around adultery'. However when you understand the commandments fully and the way in which God judges them, you will begin to realise why Jesus sacrifice was so important. Let us examine the two commandments I just mentioned.
We will begin with murder, lets read Jesus' words in Matthew 5:21-26 (NRSV):
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus tells us something very important here. While we may not ever actually physically kill someone, we are found guilty of transgressing this command through acts of anger. When we are angry and wish someone harm, or insult them, or call them stupid or worse, we are guilty of transgressing this command in our hearts. The standard of God is perfection - to uphold the command perfectly would mean to never even express anger or hate for someone - when we fail to reach perfection we are guilty of breaking the command in it's entirety.
If we continue reading Jesus gives us similar advice around the commandment on adultery : Matthew 5:27-32 (NRSV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
We see again that the standard is absolute perfection and that even one lustful thought renders us guilty of breaking the entire command - whether we actually physically commit the sin is irrelevant, God judges our heart, and we are guilty of committing the sin in our hearts when we think ...what if? or in the Australian ocker bloke language 'she's alright, I wouldn't mind a piece of that'. Of course this typical Aussie bloke statement raises a few other problems in treating women as merely sex objects rather than our gift from God - Think about that - Genesis shows us that Women were given to men as a gift - a gift of companionship, partnership and love. When we as men treat them poorly we sin gravely as not only do we fail to love as God as commanded, but we also dishonour God through failing to care for the great and wonderful gift that he gave us, but I digress...
So now we see the very reason that Jesus' sacrifice was necessary, we flawed human beings - the inheritors of a flawed and sinful nature, are incapable of fulfilling the commandments in their entirety, and as a result we could not enter the presence of God in eternal life, without the redeeming work of the cross. So why then does Jesus tell us to follow the commandments? Why is it that we see our love for God framed in such a way that it is through following the commandments that we encounter and honour God?
It is explained for us by St Paul in Romans 6:1-14. In summary St Paul tells us that if we are followers of Jesus, then spiritually we have died to sin. Through baptism into faith we are buried with Christ, our old sinful nature is killed, and we are raised to new life with Him. For us to knowingly continue to sin then (i.e. continue to disobey the Commandments of God) does not make sense. We are dead to sin spiritually and raised to new life, so we are called to express this new spiritual reality, practically in our daily lives as well.
When we put our faith in Jesus we are called to repent of our sin - to repent means to not only say sorry but to actually turn away from it. If we turn away from our sin by definition we must turn back to the commandments. Jesus summed up all of God's commandments for us into two seemingly simple to follow commands - to Love God with all our heart, mind and soul - and to love our neighbour as ourselves. I say they seem simple because in reality they are quite difficult in fact they can be a burden, at least for those who have not put their faith in Christ. However when we do that, when we understand that through putting our faith in Jesus we will not only be forgiven for our failure to fulfil the commands, but we will also be given the grace and support of God to better follow them, the commandments are no longer a burden. In fact rather than being a burden, through them we conquer the world (and with it the temptation to sin)- as John points out to us in his letter.
In the Gospel reading John goes further, and gives us Jesus' words around following the commandments. Jesus tells us that by following His commandments - just as he has followed his Fathers commandments, we will abide in Him, and He in us. He gives us a new command - to love one another as He loves us. The next statement is profound - Jesus tells us that if we follow his commandments we become his friends. We are no longer servants (or slaves in some other translations) through putting our faith in Him, by dying to sin and demonstrating this faith and love through following him, we are raised to new life and become friends with God.
As friends of God we no longer have a subservient role in the relationship, but we gain a companion, a confidant, we gain the greatest and most loyal friend we could ever hope to have, a friend who's love for us is so powerful that He willingly lays down his life for us.
So lets remember as we move forward with our week that we are dead to sin, called to follow His commandments, which are not burdensome, but bring us the great joy through friendship with the one who crafted the universe from nothing, and lay down his life that we might live.
Have you become friends with Jesus and through Him been granted eternal life? If you would like to learn more about how to become a friend of Christ please let me know through the comments or via the contact us page.