I love the book of First John, don’t you? There is something so refreshing about how John just cuts it straight and tells it like it is. There’s a big part of me that wishes Christians would talk to each other like John writes. When a brother or sister is holding on to some pet sins without signs of repentance, we would say, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). Or when we discover a long-lasting grudge between two people in the church, we’d say, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (3:15).
I certainly understand that Christians must confront each other with a gentle spirit (Galatians 6:1), but there is also a time for sharp words that will help shake sinning Christians out of their apathy and reveal the treachery of their actions. First John is full of blunt statements like the ones above. But why? Is John writing to a group of Christians like the Corinthians or Galatians who are obviously in some deep trouble spiritually speaking so that he feels the need to pull out his index finger and do some serious shaking? There isn’t any evidence of that, but he does give a simple statement that reveals one of the reasons he is writing this letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13). John’s letter is filled with blunt statements because he is revealing the characteristics of true saving faith so that his audience will know whether or not their lives match up. John knows that these characteristics will not be perfect in the Christians he is writing to, but he does expect them to be familiar realities.
While there is part of me that loves the force of John’s words, there is also a part of me (the fleshly part) which thinks, “That’s pretty harsh!” when I read some of John’s statements. Maybe this is true of you as well. I think this is because we think our sin is not quite as bad as God thinks it is and the holiness he call us to is not quite as deep as he thinks it is. In short, we don’t always agree with God about who we are and who we should be. The reality is that “harsh” is the new “normal”. Well, maybe not “new” (John wrote this letter almost 2000 years ago), but what I mean is that while John’s statements may rub us the wrong way, they are simply describing normal Christianity. In his letter, he is not listing the requirements for the Church’s version of the Navy Seals or Magna Cum Laude graduating status, he is simply saying, “This is what a Christian looks like”. God is much more awesome than we think, and therefore, his standard for Christian living is as well.