Dispatch One Hundred Thirty-Five

Posted: April 19, 2015 in Thirty-Third Bundle
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1 JOHN 3:1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

There seems to be little if any room here for the honest mistake, the venial sin, or the odd slip from the path of spiritual purity. Does the author really believe that moral perfection is not only a possibility, but something that can be mandated? Is he meaning to say that your sin or mine is blatant “lawlessness” and proof that we do not know God? We do know for a fact that the community behind this letter eventually fell into a form of spiritual elitism that took some time to expose and correct.

To be fair, we must see this short passage in the larger context of the entire letter and tradition of the so-called Johannine community (the tradition associated with the apostle John, missionary to Asia Minor), beyond whatever perfectionistic tendencies there may have been in the central revelation of God’s love and initiative of forgiveness in the person of Jesus. What was shown to us there was a grace so deep-reaching that even our most energetic attempt to overcome it by nailing it to a cross only provided the condition for its most powerful display. With that self-same love now released into us, we are empowered to love as God loves. Imagine being so totally filled with this love; would it still be possible to sin?

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