We are in a lifelong war, we who have heard Christ’s teachings, experienced his love, and come to know God the Father. And the war rages on two fronts: making the simple choice to follow or not to follow Christ; and following Christ with integrity. But we are terrible at doing both of those things, for our hearts are corrupted with sin.
In this section of verses, John is giving believers hope for that discouraging war. He wants us to know that Christ has already paid for our sin and is our active advocate with the Father. He also gives us a simple method for checking whether we are following Christ or our corrupt hearts, in order that we might turn back to Christ more quickly, and not be slaves to sin again.
So, what does “we are in a lifelong war” mean? Who is “we” and what is the “war”?
Within the context of 1 John, “we” refers to the body of believers—those who have confessed their sin and have declared to follow Jesus as savior and Lord. And rightly so, for when we choose Christ we become enemies to the world and to our sin. That rivalry will exist until Christ’s second coming, when he takes physical control over all creation. This makes me think of Paul’s encouragement to take up the armor of God:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13, ESV).
I may spend time going through this passage from Ephesians at a later date for a lot is packed in there, but I quote Paul to demonstrate that followers of God are in a battle. It is a battle that knows no rest, has no physical boundaries, and is fought in a way that puts us at a serious disadvantage if we choose to fight it without Christ.
Then again, when I consider Romans 1:18-20, I am persuaded to think that “we” includes non-believers too. For God, in his magnificent grace, has made himself sufficiently known to all men and women, and Christ, through God’s exceeding mercy, has given “propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The way to God through Christ has been established for all people, for believers and nonbelievers alike, so once God begins to renew our hearts we are left with a choice: follow or not-follow. That choice is the same, every day, for those who believe, and those who do not.
What are the battles that you fight on a weekly or daily basis? How would you define the lifelong war mentioned earlier? Are your battles and that lifelong war the same thing?
Within this passage from John, the war consists of staying in the light and out of the darkness; in other words, maintaining your choice to follow Christ with integrity. That seems like a tall order, but is that not what you want? I want to look back upon my life years, weeks, or days from now and say, I remained faithful. I want to hear God calling to me a “good and faithful servant,” “a man after his own heart” when I enter into heaven. I want to stay in the light, on the narrow path, unerringly loyal to Christ.
How does one do that? John gives us a simple answer: “Walk in the same way in which [Jesus] walked” (1 John 2.6) and keep his commandments.
That sounds so simple.
Wasn’t Jesus fully God and fully man? We are only men and women, so we are not capable of living like God. Didn’t Jesus come because people (the Israelites) were unable to keep his commandments and their hearts were always wicked? Our hearts are the same and we still cannot follow the commandments.
But, thank God he planned for us to fail at this. Thank God he sacrificed himself in Christ, so that we could have the chance to freely attempt to follow his commandments. Thank God for the Helper, the Holy Spirit, that aids us in following the commandments, following after the light, who dwells within us—making us God and man like Christ. Thank God for this lifelong war, for we get to continually plumb the bottomless depths of his grace, and appreciate its blessing. Thank God for the brothers and sisters that can encourage us during this unceasing war, like John writing to the believers in need.
Obviously, this lifelong war is not easy, but God made it simple and gave us plentiful resources to join in the fray.
- In your life, where could you say “yes” to God more often?
- What are the resources that he has given you, and how might you rely on them?
- Does Jesus use similar resources in the Gospel accounts? When and where?
Then why does John encourage us to “walk in the same way in which [Jesus] walked?” if it seems so impossible to do? It’s because John knows that a person will walk in the same way as Jesus if their life is firmly founded upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—not the other way around. Therefore, this comparison becomes a helpful test in John’s perspective, for it is universal and continuously relevant; the test reveals where we can trust in God more, not where we have sundered our salvation; the test is all inclusive, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and God desires for all people to know him and welcomes all into his kingdom.
When was the last time you seriously reflected on your walk, comparing it to Jesus’? It is scary. May it drive us to the cross, where we can throw all our failings and anxieties upon Jesus, where we can experience his love, where we can find grace to help in time of need.