That phrase in I John 2:5-6 has always been more than a bit intimidating: By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Are you kidding me??? is a very common reaction. Jesus walked in the closest communion with His Father, experiencing temptation but never committing sin – His heart and mind were pure. And I’m supposed to walk like him? I’m a cesspool of foul desires, evil thoughts, and guilty actions.
But there it is. The expectation is that Christians will reflect Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes, not as some mystical theory, but as a living Presence, changing the heart of the believer and pouring, daily, the life of Jesus in our souls. Slowly, we are becoming like Him. In my case, there are extra o’s: sloooooowly.
Sometimes it feels like we’re actually becoming worse, but that is because as God gives light progressively into our minds and hearts, we simply see more of the reality of our fallenness. Yet, that same light is also purifying us, in the most consequential and sequential daily miracle the world will ever see. Sinners transformed.
I see 5 words that can sum up what I John teaches us about a growing-into-the-image-of-Christ disciple:
- Authentic – a formerly dishonest heart is becoming truthful, leaving behind hypocrisy and embracing – before God and men – spiritual reality.
- Believing – the one who despised Jesus Christ and took His name in vain now gladly acknowledges Him as the only Savior – his/her only Savior.
- Holy – once running in the ways of the world, and delighting in sinful pursuits, the follower of Jesus has now broken with worldly patterns, even while still loving those yet trapped in their sin.
- Loving – the hallmark of Jesus’ presence in the heart is love – a formerly self-centered soul now increasingly acts on the impulses of love vertically (God-ward) and horizontally (with other men).
- Obedient – God’s commands now take precedence over the expectations of others; and, even at great cost, over our own preferences and desires.
Every one of these things is a miracle. We don’t need to divide the sea or multiply loaves of bread to prove the existence of God. We just need to follow Jesus and give Him the reins in our lives.
No disciple of Christ walks perfectly in these things – none of us can come close to living in the perfect holiness of Jesus. It will be a source of utter futility to read the text as if it meant, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk perfectly in the same manner as He walked.” That interpretation is the fastest way into the pit of despair.
Nonetheless, the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit is clear – when these five traits increasingly fill our lives, even starting in small measures, we are walking with Jesus. And, the converse is true – no matter what we say with our lips, if we are not practicing authentic, believing, holy, loving obedience, then (as John so bluntly phrases it) we are liars.
A Jesus-follower looks like Jesus. It’s gradual, slow, step-by-step, and discolored by the power of remaining sin in the heart of the believer. But now, the true disciple grieves over that sin and consistently turns away from it. The Jesus-follower brings his/her foulness to God and receives pardon and fresh power. The believer falls six times and gets up seven times, and keeps moving forward.
That, too, is a miracle of grace.