By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. —1 John 5:2–3
When was the last time you sat down with your Bible for a few minutes with God’s Counsel and encountered a sentence or two that gave you a spiritual slap upside the head?
The apostle gives us a double whammy with these two sentences. First, he informs us that the reason we know that we love God is because we keep His commandments. Notice that we are told to keep God’s commandments, not simply know them and partake in theological discussions about the finer points of the law. This agrees with Moses’ instructions to the Jews to hear God’s Word and do it, not merely hear it and discuss it (Deut. 30:12).
As we stop at the first “slap” from John and begin to rationalize how keeping God’s commandments is certainly an admirable thing in general, we can expect to find it burdensome or as King James would say, “grievous,” if we set out to keep them in every specific situation. Then John delivers his second spiritual slap by telling us God’s commandments “are not grievous.”
For many twenty-first-century American Christians, obedience and enjoyment are usually not thought to be compatible. But to approach obedience with the attitude, “God commands it, so I’m going to grit my teeth and do it,” is not exactly what John has in mind. Indeed, such brothers and sisters appear to be prime prospects for a new bumper sticker that reads, “I’d Rather Be Disobeying.”
If you’re ready for some “Joy of Living,” let’s look at John’s concluding statement: “[H]is commandments are not grievous.” When we were non-Christians, God’s law was not grievous to us because we never gave it a second thought. However, now that we have received our supernatural heart transplant, complete with God’s law written on it (Jer. 31:33), we not only care about God’s laws, but we know that we should live according to them because the veil that once blinded us to that responsibility has been lifted so that the light of the gospel shines in our heart (2 Cor. 4:3–4). Yet we still have some remnants of our old man that tempt us to live according to our rules, instead of God’s rules (Gen. 3:1). The Apostle Paul describes our “new creation” thus:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. —2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV
Note that “all things” become new, not just some of the things that we can most easily fit into our former lifestyle and become a little more moralistic. Christianity is a complete transformation of one’s life, and our goal should be nothing less than a complete casting aside of our will and replacing it with God’s will. Since we’re not perfect, this change is not perfect. Even though every part of our worldview and lifestyle is changed, no part of it is perfectly changed, which is why we will always have conflicts between our old and new natures. But even though the change is not perfect, it is still a lasting change, and we cannot completely go back to our former non-Christian ways (Prov. 12:3).
Our “new creation” means that our knowledge of God is increased (Hosea 2:20), as well our knowledge of the horribleness of sin (Rom. 7:13), and the knowledge of ourselves (Luke 15:17; Ezek. 36:31). Our will has also undergone a transformation as the Holy Spirit is now working in us “to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13; 2 Thess. 3:5). A seventeenth-century Puritan, Thomas Boston, observes that Christians are not simply better moral people, but new people: “Regeneration is not so much the curing of a sick man, as ‘the quickening of a dead man.’”1
Faced with the expectation that this old man/new man struggle will last throughout our earthly life (Rom. 7:21–25; Col. 3:9–10), how do we overcome the thought that is rattling in the back of our mind that keeps telling us: Sure, you love God’s law. You’re supposed to, but be honest; don’t you consider it to be a bit “grievous”? After all, the law is perfect and you’re not, so can you in all honesty say that God’s law is your delight(Ps. 119:16, 24)?
Perhaps it is best if we first get a clear picture of what it means to delight in something. List the three things in which you most delight, and then see if your excitement about them mirrors your thoughts about God’s law. If the excitement about your three delights and the excitement about God’s law are identical, then stop wasting your time reading this and get back to taking ground for Christ’s Kingdom. On the other hand, if you still can’t get enthused by the thought of filtering your daily decisions through the grid of Biblical law, answer this question and see if it helps:
What three things make you the most upset, frustrated, or disgruntled?
Where does “bringing dishonor to God” rank on your list? (We do that by refusing to incorporate Biblical principles into our behavior.) If it is not your first priority, or if it is not even among your top three priorities, this is a strong indication that you are yet to give your whole heart to serving Christ in His Kingdom (Jer. 29:13).
To imagine that we can gain the favor of Jesus without giving our most serious efforts to conform our lives to His will is to delude ourselves and embark on a fool’s errand (1 Sam. 13:13; Ps. 14:1; Luke 24:25). Such a halfhearted commitment to Jesus demonstrates that our heart is being dominated by our old nature instead of our new nature. We must recognize that just because we may say that we hate sin, and just because we may understand that we should hate it, the true condition of our heart will reveal itself in our actions.
A person’s recognition of the need to live a godly lifestyle does not necessarily mean that he has repented from his ungodly ways. Unless and until a person truly repents, his lifestyle will not be positively altered (James 2:18–19).
Who would disagree with King Solomon’s statement: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered” (Prov. 28:26)? Since we agree that our heart is “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, 8:21), could the reason that “bringing dishonor to God” is missing from our list of most upsetting things be that we still do not truly understand ourselves, or our calling? Before a person can be expected to change his behavior, he must first recognize that his current behavior is unacceptable. Hence, the psalmist asks, “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Ps. 119:34, emphasis added). Later the psalmist pleads with God, “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” (Ps. 119:133).
To look forward to each day in the service of Christ’s Kingdom with a “Joy for Living,” instead of being grieved at the thought of never measuring up to God’s perfect standard, we must realize that we are already justified because our sin curse has been removed by Jesus’ sinless life and victory over death (Rom. 8:1). His love for us means that our restored condition is even better than Adam and Eve’s pre-fallen state and is also better than the state of the disobedient angels before their fall.
The reason for this is that they could and did fall out of fellowship with their Lord, Savior, and King, and we can’t! Not only have we been redeemed by Christ and renewed by the Holy Spirit, but we remain in our relationship with Him forever by the almighty power of God! Jesus assures us that we will not be “cast out” and that He will lose none of those given to Him by His Father (John 6:35–40). We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, which guarantees our inheritance (Eph. 1:5, 13–14). This keeps us from falling (Jude 24–25) and enables us to be “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:35–39).
If these thoughts don’t motivate you to want to dance, check your pulse! Certainly we have no reason to consider God’s laws a grievance, since our once proud and self-serving soul has been transformed into a humble, others-serving soul that welcomes God’s wisdom into our worldview and lifestyle (Col. 1:21).
- No longer should we approach life as though we are merely “good, moralistic citizens who regularly attend worship services, but who have no intention of ‘exiting’ our beliefs from the friendly confines of our homes and churches.”2
- No longer should we attempt to conduct our Christian life with no discernable differences between our worldview and that of non-Christians (Eph. 2:2–3).
A good place to begin our service in Christ’s Kingdom each morning is to ask: “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?” (Ps. 116:12). The answer, of course, is to present “a living sacrifice.”
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. —Rom. 12:1–2 NKJV
At the end of each day we will find that our thoughts, words, and actions have been faithful to the one to whom we belong (Acts 27:23), whether that be God or man. Paul proclaims:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? —Rom. 6:16 NKJV
Since our thoughts and plans center on those things that are most important to us, the question arises: “Am I in the habit of taking time for thoughtful consideration and meditation on the passages I read in Scripture?” If you are not in the habit of meditating or thinking through the various truths in Scripture, there’s no need to feel alone; few in our day appear to be thinking reflectively about anything. There is, however, an easy exercise you can do that will enable you not only to think about Biblical truths, but to incorporate them into your worldview and lifestyle.
Draw a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper and label the left column “Truth” and the right column “Life.” List and number the Biblical truths you profess to believe down the left side and then, in the corresponding number in the right column, note how you are going to incorporate each truth into your lifestyle. Refresh your memory of these each day by including a few of them in your Bible study time.
As you learn other Biblical truths, add those to the left column, making sure also to add their application in the right column. You will find that this is a very effective antidote to the temptation to store up Biblical truths in your brain with the sole purpose of discussing or debating them. While there is nothing wrong with discussing Biblical truths, God does not reveal them to us in His inerrant Word solely for that, or even primarily for that. He has graciously given us His divine instruction book for life so we can do His Word, and if we are doing anything less than that (i.e., discussing them more than we are doing them), we are not bringing glory and honor to Him.
Can you honestly say with the psalmist: “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day!” (Ps. 119:97 NKJV)? If not, make that your daily prayer. God will be happy to oblige you, and you will find that your worldview and lifestyle will be energized to a level of enjoyment, excitement, and purpose that you have never known.
1. Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (The Banner of Truth Trust , 1964), 226. See also Ephesians 2:1–5.
2. Buddy Hanson, EXIT Strategy: A Handbook to Exponentially Improve Your Service for God (Hanson Group, 2005). See also Ezekiel 33:31.