Let me introduce to our grandson. His name is Malcolm Elliot Schnabel, and he’s 16 months old. He was born December 18, 2011, the day before Cheryl’s cancer surgery. So he’s now walking and starting to talk like crazy. One reason he’s on my mind today is because we took care of him two days in a row last week while his parents were out of town celebrating Rebecca’s 29th birthday. That’s the longest we have taken care of him at a stretch, and I quickly realized why people have babies in their 20’s and 30’s and not in their 50’s and 60’s. It takes so much energy to keep up with him! Don’t misunderstand! Malcolm has always been a very and happy baby—always smiling, giggling, and snuggling up with us. But it also became clear to us this last week that he has a sin nature like the rest of us.
He was really good for us except for a few times when the temptation of modern technology became too much for him. I didn’t know that his natural interests and talents would show themselves so early. But they have! Like his dad, who is an IT specialist, Malcolm is irresistibly drawn to computers and electronics. And that’s how he got in trouble! He wouldn’t leave my laptop alone. So we followed the routine his parents have established with him. We said “No” to him and when he wouldn’t stop, we asked him, “Yay or Disobey?” That’s the code phrase they use when he disobeys. And if he doesn’t cease and desist right away, he doesn’t get a “Yay!” He gets a time-out—1 minute for every year old he is. So we made him sit in a chair all by himself for 1 minute, which must seem like an eternity to a toddler. But it worked! He sat in the chair for 60 seconds watching me time him on my watch, and then following his parents’ example, we hugged him and told him how much we love him, and he was golden the rest of the day!
And I know you know the answer to this, but why is that so important? Why is it important for children to learn to obey their mothers and fathers? Because then the transition to obeying their Heavenly Father is so much easier! That’s why He gave us the 6th commandment—“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
And why is it important to learn to obey the Lord? That’s what we’re going to learn in this study. It’s also why I’ve taken the time to describe our grandson’s adventures in obedience—to underscore the absolute necessity of walking in obedience to our Heavenly Father. We touched on this in our last study when John talked about walking in the light. But now he approaches the subject at an deeper level calling it a test of our salvation and giving us 3 powerful motives for living in obedience to Christ. Let’s take them one at a time. The first is—
This is a passage full of fatherly affection. You can see it in the way John opens the passage: “My little children.” And he does so for an important reason. Just as we reassured Malcolm of our love after his time-out, John, who is about to talk to us about the very serious topic of sin, wants us to remember throughout the discussion that our Heavenly Father loves us deeply and forgives all our sins. So, with that in mind, read what he says: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
Have you ever compared John’s purpose for writing this letter with his reason for writing his gospel? In his gospel he says, “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” In other words, he wrote his gospel to inspire faith in Jesus by recording His mighty miracles and life-changing words. But here his purpose is different because these people were believers. That’s why he calls them God’s children. 1 John 5:13 is the best summary of his purpose: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” God doesn’t want us to merely hope, He wants us to know for sure that we’ve been forgiven and have eternal life! 40 times John uses the word “know” in this letter to help us gain an assurance of our salvation. Because feeling secure in His love is very important to our Heavenly Father!
Think back to your own childhood and remember how important it was to feel secure in your parents’ love. I don’t know about you but I had all sorts of fears as a little boy. My greatest was my fear of the dark and that someone would sneak into my bedroom in the middle of the night and steal me away from my family, whom I loved dearly. That may sound silly to you, but I was deathly afraid of that. Mothers, of course, are usually sympathetic about these things. But it was my dad’s assurance I needed because he was the one I was counting on to protect me. And he wasn’t the most patient guy in the world. Remember Mark Twain’s words? “There was never a child so lovely that his parents couldn’t wait to get him in bed at night.” That was my dad. After a couple of minutes reassuring me, it was, “OK. That’s enough now. Just settle down and go to sleep,” which wasn’t a great help to me, and like most children, I needed a lot of help feeling secure.
And the same thing is true spiritually. To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to feel secure in His love. Otherwise fear will take over and paralyze us, keeping us from loving Him and others the way He wants. So John writes this letter to assure us of our salvation in Christ. And the way he does it is by giving us several benchmarks by which we can tell that we have been born again and are forever members of His family. One is our new love for Jesus. Another is our new love for other Christians. But the first one he mentions here is our new desire to be free of sin. Don’t misunderstand! Nowhere does John say that we can be completely free of sin in this life. As we learned in chapter 1, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” What he says is that we don’t have to be ruled by sin any longer. “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin.”
That is the first way to tell you’re a new creature in Christ and that you have eternal life! You don’t want to sin anymore. You want to obey Jesus, and it grieves you when you don’t. For “by this,” John says, “we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
You see, as long you continue in sin, you’ll never get an assurance of your salvation, because that assurance comes from God, the Holy Spirit, and He won’t give it to you if you’re living in sin. Instead, what you’ll get is a conviction that you’re a sinner, which will take you right back to how you felt before you met Christ. And if your sin is serious and persistent enough, you may any sense of the assurance you once had. As someone put it, “Sin adds to your troubles, subtracts from your energy, multiplies your shame, divides your loyalties, and destroys your confidence in Christ.” And yet, even then, God is gracious, for He knows we all stumble at times! So what has He done to help us when we fall? He’s provided a safety net to catch us. That’s a second motive for living in obedience to Christ. Our first motive is to gain assurance of salvation. The second is—
2. The Atonement of Christ
Read verse 1 again: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” I believe the word “and” in verse 1 should be translated “but,” because what John is describing here is an exception to our new habit of walking in obedience to Christ, pointing out the safety net God has provided when we fall. If I were translating it, it would read, “I am writing these things to you, so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”
The word “advocate” is also important here. It’s the word paraclete referring to someone who comes alongside us to lend support in time of need. In our case, that’s Jesus who comes to our aid as a defense attorney answering every charge leveled against us. Who levels the charges? Satan the accuser of our brethren who accuses us before our God day and night! For even though he lost his home in heaven when he rebelled against God in the beginning, Satan still has access to heaven and accuses us before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:10) Job is an example. The Bible says on the day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan came too, to accuse Job, that he didn’t love the Lord nearly as much as the Lord thought. So God let the devil test Job.
And God lets him accuse us and test us too. Will the charges sick? No! For we have an advocate who makes Perry Mason look like a law school drop-out, defending us how and when? Before we even ask Him! For notice John doesn’t say, “If anyone repents,” he says, “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father,” which means even before we ask Him, He does what He promised Peter. “Satan has desired to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Jesus is praying for you today. Furthermore, who acts as Judge and Jury in your case? Our Heavenly Father who loves you dearly and looks for any just cause to let you go free. And on what basis is He able to do that? Based on the blood of Jesus that has been shed for our sins! For not only is He our Advocate, He is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for those of the whole world.” Propitiation means an atoning sacrifice that removes our sins as if they never existed. So the devil loses again! For no charge leveled against us will ever stand as long as Jesus is defending us!
I hear the accuser roar, of ills that I have done.I know them well, and thousands more. But Jehovah finds not one. Though the restless foe accuses, sins recounting like a flood, and every charge our God refuses, for Christ has answered with His blood.”
One of the things I’ve learned going through Cheryl’s battle with cancer is how much we need other people because, if not for the generosity of several friends, we’d be bankrupt today. Cancer surgery and treatment is expensive, costing us tens of thousands of dollars up to this point. And yet, today we stand debt-free thanks to the generosity of several friends, some of whom donated thousands of dollars to help us. And when people help you like that, how does it make you feel about them? It makes you love them even more than you did before!
And so it is with Jesus except that He paid a debt for which it’ll take us all of eternity to tell Him how much we love Him. But then, let’s not wait till then to do so. Let’s start right for that is both our third and most powerful motive for living in obedience to Him. Motive #1 was the assurance of our salvation. Motive#2 was the atonement of Christ. And motive #3 is—
3. Our Affection for Christ
Read verses 4 to 6 again. John warns, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
There are two major reasons why children obey their parents. One is imitation. For example, right now our grandson is learning animal sounds. We’ll ask him, “What does the cow say?” and make the sound for it and he’ll mimic us. “Moo! Moo!” he’ll say. Then we’ll ask, “What does the kitty say?” and he’ll mimic that too. “Mew! Mew!” Actually, those two sound pretty much the same, as do many of his other words. Translation is a challenge when trying to understand a 16-month old. But the funniest is when we ask him, “What’s the dog say?” because he’ll either say “Ruff!” or “Legal!” The reason he says, “Legal” is because their dog’s name is Liesel, and he can’t say it correctly. So he says, “Legal” instead. In fact, what’s funny is that even though he can’t pronounce it properly, he does get the tone of voice right. For example, if you yell “Lie-sel” in calling for their dog, that’s exactly how he’ll say it, sort of. Except that he’ll say, “Le-gal!”
So why do little children mimic their parents? Because that’s how they learn! So they watch us and listen to us and try to imitate everything we do. And in the same way, John says it’s not only natural for us to mimic Jesus, it’s the only way to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
That’s the verse which inspired the “What Would Jesus Do?” movement of the last several years, giving rise to everything from songs to movies to friendship bracelets. But did you know that phrase was actually coined 116 years ago when Charles Sheldon wrote a book called In His Steps and subtitled it, “What Would Jesus Do?” The premise is: What if the believers in a small town began to live like Jesus? Would it make a difference in their community? Of course, the answer is: Yes! Everything changed when Christians began to follow the example of Jesus. And I imagine things would change here too if all the believers in town were to ask themselves before they did anything, “What would Jesus do?”
But notice that John gives us an even greater, more powerful motive than imitation. You can see it in verse 5, where he says, “But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.” The most powerful motive for obeying Christ is simply our affection for Him. I’ll never forget a conversation that was recorded between Mother Teresa and one of the visitors to her mission in Calcutta. As the visitor watched the little nun caring for the sick and dying, he said to her, “Sister, I wouldn’t do what you do for all the money in the world!” To which she replied, “Neither would I!” Because even when all other incentives fail, the one that keeps us faithful to Christ is our affection for Him.
Why do I use the word “affection” instead of love? Because that’s the word Peter used when Jesus restored him to ministry. You remember on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter swore, “Even if everyone else falls away, Lord, I never will!” But then he denied his Lord that very night 3 times, filling him with guilt and shame. So Jesus met with him early one Sunday morning by the Sea of Galilee to restore him. How? By asking him 3 times, “Peter, do you love me?” But instead of using the strongest Greek word for love to answer Him, Peter used a humbler word – “fileo,” describing the deep affection you feel for a close friend. And that was enough for Jesus! After declaring his affection 3 times, Jesus restored Peter both to fellowship and ministry saying to him, “Tend My sheep.” And Peter, as flawed as he was, went on to become the great apostolic leader of the early church – all because of his deep and lasting affection for Christ.
So let me ask you. Do you love Jesus with a deep and lasting personal affection? Our first motive for obeying Christ is the assurance of our salvation. Our second motive is our gratitude for His atonement. But the greatest motive of all, which keeps us faithful to Him even when our assurance wavers and our thankfulness wanes, is our affection for Christ. So take a moment to honestly ask yourself that question before you finish reading, “Do I have a deep personal affection for Jesus?” And if you don’t or something is hindering it today, ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify it and remove it for you, and He will. For that is the very reason He came into the world—to give us a deep personal love for Jesus.
I read an interesting article this week in the Discipleship Journal. In it, they asked their readers, all dedicated Christians I’m sure, to list their greatest areas of spiritual struggle. So I thought, as I bring this study of obedience to a close, it might be helpful to see what other Christians are struggling with. I doubt it’ll be a surprise. Here’s the list. Use it to test yourself and see in what areas of your life you need to call upon the Lord for greater motivation. #1 was materialism (love of money). #2 was pride. # 3 was self-centeredness. #4 was laziness. #5 wass bitterness. #6 was sexual lust. #7 was envy. #8 was gluttony (overeating). And #9 was lying. Sound like anything you struggle with?
So what do we do if we struggle with these things? The first thing to do, as we learned in 1 John 1:9, is to confess your sins to the Lord who will be faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. But like me, you may want more than that. I want a love for Christ that gives me power over sin and motivates me to live for Him even when it’s hard. I believe the best way to do that is to live with this passage. Read it over and over and ask the Holy Spirit to use it to change your life, and He will. 81% of those who took part in this survey said temptation became much more potent when they neglected their daily time with God. Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s use these truths to draw near to God, so He will draw near to us and change us for Jesus’ sake. Amen?