I have been trying to work through 1 John in my devotional reading. Though simplistic in its wording, it is a difficult book to follow the flow of thought. One verse has hung in my mind since I started reading it. "and we are writing these things that our joy may be complete (1:4)."
Over the past week, through various sources, it has become apparent to me that holy living is not the burden that many have made it out to be. Is it an obligation? Yes. Do you or I actually fulfill this obligation ever? No. No matter how hard we try, no matter what methodologies we implement you and I can never be holy of our own efforts.
This is the oddity of the Christian life. We have an impossible standard that we are to recognize fully as such, because it constantly reminds us that only Jesus has done this perfectly. The impossible standard is there to break us and force us to admit we are mess-ups. It forces us to remind ourselves daily that Jesus has given us His perfect holiness. He alone has fulfilled this perfect standard.
When we gratefully wear the robes of Jesus' perfect righteousness, rather than trying to spruce up our own tattered garments, we are dressed to enjoy and delight in holy living. Christ's commands to love others more than ourselves is no longer a burdensome task that leaves us feeling guilty every time we consider our failure to do so. When we are wearing Jesus' perfect love for others instead of trying to muster our own, we are freed to love others because it is not about ME. Otherwise, in trying to love others more than ourselves we still manage to make it all about ourselves.
We must be forced to recognize at every moment of every day that we are inept. In our strength, we can only flail about, clumsily bumbling through life. Jesus' perfect life is our own. His perfection has replaced our imperfection. The standard has already been met. Now we must become what we already are in God's eyes. We must die to our own self-improvement attitudes and die to ourselves, living to Christ. We strive for holy living because it is our delight to do so, not because it is a list of tasks we must fulfill. This is one of the most freeing and refreshing truths a Christian can grasp. I am not sure that I have communicated it well enough to be understood rightly.
The "Christian" self-help mentality is destructive to Christian living. It will either crush you, because you realize you just can't live up to this holy standard (even when the Spirit is presented as a power source), or you will follow whatever steps prescribed, because you are a rule follower, becoming prideful and arrogant. Holy living is only possible in the realization that Jesus alone has done so on our behalf. Now we live for Him in the way that He lived because we are delighted to do it and Jesus is our delight.
So much for clearly laying this all out. It is a big idea that I am struggling to put into my own words, though I am fully aware that many other men have said exactly the same thing with far more precision. John wrote this letter, 1 John, not out of a duty to this church, but because it brought him joy. May we serve the Lord in gladness!