Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
– 1 John 5:1-5
My favorite children’s catechism asks the question, “How can we glorify God?” And the answer is, “by loving him and obeying what he commands.” Loving God and obeying his commandments are deeply intertwined together. We obey God’s commandments because he first loved us. We obey God’s law because he has accepted us. We obey God’s will because he has given us his Spirit. We obey him because we love him. To obey God’s law for any other reason leads to either self-righteousness and pride (legalism) or bone-crushing burdens (guilt).
As Christians we need to delight in God’s law. The Psalmist says in 119:97, “O how I love your law!” At least 10 times in that one chapter the Psalmist talks about how he delights in God’s law. However, we must remember that salvation is progressive. We become more like Christ day by day. And before we were found in Christ we hated God’s law. We loved the darkness because our deeds were evil (John 3). So our love for God’s law is also progressive. The Psalmist prays in 119:32, “Give me understanding, teach me, and enlarge my heart that I might follow you.” He is constantly asking God to teach him the commands and to give him understanding of his precepts.
As faithful believers we need to pray for an enlarged heart, to understand, and be taught God’s commands. Can we truly love God while ignoring his commands? The apostle would say no. If we love God, we will obey him.
The good news is that when we obey God out of our love for him, we find that his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). We often think of God as a cosmic killjoy, as if he is up in heaven looking for fun to extinguish. But this is a false picture of who our God is. What is truly burdensome is our sin. Think of the burdens in your life. I can guarantee you that if you trace your burdens back to its source you will not find obedience to God’s law but rather disobedience. We can delight in keeping God’s commands not only because it is an expression of love to him, but because they make our present life sweeter and more satisfying.
John does not over-simplify the relationship between a believer and sin. He acknowledges that for the rest of our time on this earth we will be in a constant struggle with this world. We will continue to be tempted. We will continue to fall. However, if we have faith we will not be overcome by this world and its temptations. 1 John 1:4-5 says that it is we who have faith in Jesus Christ that will overcome this world.
How do you know if you are being overcome by this world? Here are some of my personal assessment questions:
1. What are your heart’s desires? What do you long for?
What do you want more than anything in this world? Is it temporal or eternal? Let’s not waste our life on things not worth living for.
2. Are you resolved to be rich and to have things of pleasure and luxury?
This is a difficult question to answer with the truth. It is difficult because we always know someone with more money than we have and we say, “that is their problem, not mine.” Wealth is relative. It is not how much money you have but how you spend what you have. Are you always wanting a little more because you “deserve” it? Will you be happy if you could have just a little more? Are you going into debt unnecessarily?
3. Are the things of God always trumped by the things of this world?
Look at the way you spend your time as an assessment of your priorities. What is first to be bumped off of your calendar when conflicts arise? Which activities are you willing to sacrifice, and which are you committed to? If what you ought to do is habitually being overcome by what you are doing then there is a good chance you are being overcome by this world.
The good news of the gospel is that we have victory in Jesus. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). No temptation has come to us for which he has not provided us an escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore let us flee from sin and diligently seek holiness. May we not abuse his grace, but may we love him by delighting ourselves in and keeping his commands.