Growing up I was considered what James Dobson would call a “compliant child.” I wasn’t overtly rebelling against anyone or anything. I was too busy trying to make sense of the world, and how I was going to get through this thing called life. Generally, I preferred to get lost in books, and being obedient wasn’t that difficult for me, because, often, I was in a different world. A side-eye from my mom was enough. Being obedient appeared to be the easiest way to live into adulthood. Since then my latent rebelliousness surfaces now and again, but that’s a different blog.
1 John is one of my favorite books in the Bible.
I have enjoyed going through this book with different groups of people. In many ways, it is a simple and straightforward book about how to live the Christian life. I like the way John writes, he does not mince words, and he does not want to give anybody false impressions, yet there is a gentleness in his approach.
I get a kick out of Christians who “help” newer believers who want to get a start at reading the Bible…. and I confess I used to be one of those people. We say “Read 1 John. It’s written by the disciple who Jesus loved. It’s all about love.”
And then I studied 1 John.
Don’t let the addresses to “dear children” or “dear friends” fool you. John wrote a tough letter. Sure there are references to love, but the meat of the book is: obedience. John feels very strongly that obedience is the visible marker of being a Christ follower.
Now he is not saying in his letter that obedience will cause God to love you more – there’s nothing we can do to have God love us more than He already does – but obedience, John writes, is a strong indication of what is happening in a person’s heart.
I wonder if John was thinking about this verse from 1 Samuel as he wrote his letter:
But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV)
John tells us in the very first chapter, “Look everybody sins.
But we don’t have to stay in our sin. Christ has come to bring forgiveness for those sins. All we need to do is admit them and ask for forgiveness.” (vs. 8-10 my paraphrase) However, John doesn’t stop there, he urges his readers to obey. He believes we can live righteously, and living this way proclaims Christ better than anything else we can do.
As John makes his point he uses the power of contrasts to give examples of what obedience is and what it is not. Light or darkness. Truth or lies. Love or hate. Confidence or fear. Righteousness or lawlessness. Life or death.
Certainly, from these contrasts we can see that obedience is good for us. When we obey God’s commands, life may not be as complicated with the consequences of our sins. But obedience is more than what we do. Obedience reveals what we possess, who and what we are. Obedience is a reflection of the changes made within us through Christ. In obeying we reflect we are love; understand truth; have eternal life; live in confidence, righteousness, and light.
But obedience is more than what we do. Obedience reveals what we possess, who and what we are.
And John was not ignorant of the forces around us that fight against our being obedient.
He writes in the 2nd chapter of the things that often distract us in being obedient. The fascination with the love of the world manifests itself in “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” ( v. 16)
His letter is an encouragement to remind us, who we are and to whom we belong. If we belong to Christ, then obedience is simply a by-product of how we live in this world. It is what we use to fight against the forces pushing us towards heresy and taking away our love for God and for others. With obedience, we defeat those forces.
I guess John is saying what I figured out as a young child. Obedience is really the easiest way to live.
These days when someone who is new to the Bible asks me where they might start reading, I always suggest the Gospel of Mark. It’s shorter than the other gospels, and Mark writes a plain-spoken commentary on Jesus’ life and actions. Then I would suggest the letter of 1 John. Once a person has come into a relationship with Jesus, then that is the time to encourage identity with Christ through obedience.
How do you feel about the idea of obedience? Does it curdle your blood or do you see it as life-giving? Why?