Summary: Is the Christian life a constant challenge to improve and please God, or a soft rocking chair of comfort as we wait for heaven? The truth is somewhere in the middle.
Sometimes it seems that the Christian community is divided into two different camps. One camp views the Christian life as one of a constant challenge to do better, to try harder, to work to please God. And the other extreme tends to see the Christian life as basking in the warm glow of salvation without any concern for growth, for transformation, or for anything of an active type. It’s kind of like, "I’ve got my ticket punched. Now I just float to heaven in my rocking chair." And, it’s usual with extreme positions like this, the truth is found somewhere in the middle.
One might think that John would be in that first category of people who are always striving with a constant challenge to fulfill some kind of expectations. But the truth of the matter is that John’s real heart, as black and white as he is, and as action-oriented, and as intolerant as he seems to be of anything short of perfection, is revealed in the little passage that we have before us.. And in fact, his real heart is not as I have described it where we think that he’s constantly holding up, "This is what you’ve got to do to be saved." Rather, "This is what a saved person acts like." And he gets very pastoral, very fatherly in these verses that were read for us, verses 12-14, and what we really see here is a celebration of our salvation. At the same time, John is calling us and challenging us to greater maturity, to the outworking of what is going on inside of us. It is filled with enthusiastic encouragement for what John has already seen in the lives of these peoples.
This is a rather long quote from a man, but I’d like to read it to you from John Marshall’s commentary on this. He says, "It is good to remember that in the last analysis, our salvation depends on the promise and power of God so that we can boldly declare that we have peace with God and that we know whom we have believed. John’s statements here are meant to awaken such confidence among his readers, but the important of Christian assurance is one of the notes in this epistle which has aroused surprisingly little echo among expositors." (The Epistles of John, p.141)
It’s too easy to look at 1 John as a list of, "Here’s a bunch of stuff we have to do," and miss the fact that what John is describing is the Christian life and how wonderful it is to have experienced this transformation. Well, that’s what John does in these little verses, these three verses of chapter 2, because he celebrates who we are and what we have in Christ, and at the same time he lays out for us the life we have been called to lead. There are not two opposing ideas here. They are together forming a kind of synergism. Security in our salvation and consistent Christian living aren’t mutually exclusive, as though if you’re secure then you’ll never live a consistent Christian life. But, they are in fact complementary.
Let’s look at what John points out here about us. The first thing that he says, the first truth that he states is this: "Our sins are forgiven." That’s a very unusual style. I don’t know if you’ve got the NIV, but you’ll noticed that they’ve kind of got it in almost a poetic kind of a style, the way that it’s written. And it’s given commentators difficulty because there’s talking about these ’dear children,’ or ’infants,’ ’young men,’ and ’fathers.’ And of course there’s been a lot of ink expended trying to figure out who these guys are that John is referring to here. Sometimes people have seen this as stages of maturity, but that kind of breaks down when you see that the "fathers who have been known from the beginning" – that sounds like a real mature thing, then later on it says, in that same verse, "I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father," – same idea. So, the idea of these being stages of maturity kind of breaks down. My belief is that this is a family letter written by the leader of the family, written to the members of his family – men and women, not just fathers, young men and male children, but everybody. He’s just saying, "Brothers and sisters, the members of God’s family to whom I am writing. I am writing this to you, very personally." See, that can wake us up a little bit because whenever we get mail, we like to see who it’s from, don’t we? How many of you get email? How many of you like spam? No hands. What a surprise. And you recognize spam, don’t you? It’s from somebody you don’t know and then there’s some kind of a statement in the thing that gives you some idea sometimes about what’s involved. But, if you get an email and you recognize that name, you don’t delete it (well, I hope you don’t delete it) you go right to it and you open it up because it’s from someone you know. It’s the same thing with junk mail. You know you get all that stuff and you’re just dealing it right into the garbage can until you get one from someone you know. And then you open it.