I took much joy in Bible College pointing out the silliness of dormitory rules.
Take, for example, this combination:
- Students shall wear proper footwear in the dorms.
- Students shall not roller-blade in the dorms. (I like to believe that I had a small part to play in the formation of this rule—the figure “8” hallway made an irresistible roller-blade course!)
My problem was the combination of the two rules. If you wanted to roller-blade outside, you had a conundrum on your hands. You couldn’t wear sock feet to the door because you would violate rule #1 (above). On the other hand, you couldn’t wear your roller-blades downstairs due to rule #2. There was no place to store footwear by the door. What was a law-abiding student to do?
Or take the dress code that stated that male students must wear a tie to chapel services (this was the 1990s). I remember the day my class mate wore his tie as a headband. He followed the rule—to the letter!
When people make laws to restrict behavior based on arbitrary principles, things always devolve into legalism. Jesus’ simple commandments, on the other hand, are liberating.
Before we look at the nature of Jesus’ commandments, we need to see what type of people follow them.
The fifth chapter of 1 John begins with a discussion about about new birth:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1 ESV)
Belief (which includes the idea of faith and trust) here has a specific content. John doesn’t say that Christians are those who attend church, watch televangelists, or feed the poor. No, Christians are those who believe (or have faith, or trust) that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Messiah, the King that Israel longed for and who now rules over the entire world.
These Christians, in turn, love their Father in heaven and their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as a good friend loves his friend’s children, Christians should naturally love their divine Father’s children.
We can clarify the relationship between belief and regeneration by taking a closer look at the tenses of two of the verbs in this verse.
- Believes is in the present tense, indicating that what the verb describes is a present and ongoing state—faith/belief/trust in Jesus is our continual state.
- Has been Born is in the perfect tense, indicating that what the verb describes has happened—we have been born again completely.
This tells us that believing that Jesus is the Christ—trusting his rule—is a consequence of being born again, not a precondition of it. We are unable to fully accept the rule of King Jesus in our hearts unless (and until) we are born again. There is nothing we can do to work up faith in and of ourselves—it is a gift, a consequence of being born again.
The second verse seems paradoxical. In 1 John 4:20, John taught plainly that the proof of our love for God is in our love for his children. Here John reverses that idea. The proof of our love for God’s children is in our love for God. Bultmann describes this logic as a paradox.
Is the paradox actually being ventured so that because brotherly love is proof of love of God, so also love of God is proof of brotherly love? In that case, a circle would be formed, so to speak, which, from the perspective of a mere spectator, is not comprehensible, but is comprehensible only from the viewpoint of someone standing within the circle, as both the agent and the recipient of love. (77)
Bultmann’s existentialism is on full display here. From the view of an outsider this seems paradoxical—the logic is circular. For those who have have given their lives to Christ in faith, however, the apparent paradox dissolves.
It is as impossible to love the children of God (as such) without loving God as it is to love God without loving his children (4:20-21). (Stott 175)
Those with the faith born of regeneration, who believe that Jesus is the Christ exist in a self-reinforcing cycle of love for God and love for God’s children characterized by obedience to Jesus’ commandments.
Human rules can be burdensome, irksome, persnickety. God’s commandments, on the other hand, are the opposite.
When Moses revisited Israel’s covenant with God on the edge of the promise land, he stressed the do-ability of God’s laws.
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV)
In an effort to clarify God’s laws, human interpreters got in the way and made the life-giving will of God a burden. Jesus criticized those interpreters harshly!
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:2-4 ESV)
The interpreters of God’s law laid heavy burdens on would-be followers of God. Jesus’ approach was the exact opposite:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
For Jesus, the whole law and prophets hung on simple love for God and neighbour. He also expressed this fulfillment of the law and prophets as the golden rule (Matthew 7:12). Simple to understand. Do-able.
In response to the regeneration that grounds our faith, how can we do anything less than obey Christ by loving God and his kids?