The Way to Abide
We are admonished in the New Testament to walk as Jesus walked; yet most Christians are painfully aware that they fail, especially in day-to-day living. Then what do we do? What is the remedy? This article presents the Biblical solution to sin in our lives and how to return to what seems an impossibility: a victorious life, based not on a one-time experience, but a “moment by moment walk based on a moment by moment cleansing.”
Faced with life as this daily combat with temptation, and the need of daily conquest, it is not surprising that so much space is given in the New Testament letters to our daily walk. Almost every letter mentions it. The writer usually progresses from some exposition of our standing in Christ to detailed instructions concerning the daily walk.
In Romans, for instance, the walk is not mentioned till chapter 8, where we are warned to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” In Galatians, after the fundamental doctrine of justification has been magnificently reaffirmed and vindicated, Paul adds, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit….If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Ephesians takes us to the summit of revelation in union with our ascended Lord, and then says: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called….Walk in love….Walk as children of light….Walk circumspectly.”
The walk is a picturesque metaphor for our daily Christian living. We have entered by the straight gate, now let us walk on the narrow way; and for this walk we know no better instructions than those given in 1 John 1. The great revelations of God’s grace are usually summed up in some special passage of Scripture. We turn to John 3 to explain the new birth; Romans 6 for identification with Christ; 1 Cor. 13 for love; Heb. 11 for faith; 1 Thes. 4 for the Lord’s coming; and for the daily walk of victory to 1 John 1.
The whole emphasis of this letter of John’s is significant. He had seen Eternal Life walking this earth, and records that fact for us. We are now to live that same life, if we say He is in us. It is a call to the highest standard of Christian living, four times over described to us, as walking as He walked, being righteous as He is righteous, pure as He is pure, perfect in love, for “as He is, so are we in this world.”
But who is sufficient for such things? The answer is first in the union relationship of us in Him and He in us, which John takes for granted in this letter. But then it is in the daily abiding, the daily walk which he expounds to us in his first chapter by a fifth comparison. We are to walk in the light, as He is in the light. If we do this (and he tells us how to do it), and while we do it, these impossible standards are being reached; for he says, “Whoso is keeping His word, in him verily is the love of God being perfected.” Not, mark you, some standard of perfection which can be claimed as ours once for all as a result of some specific experience, but the product of a moment by moment walk based on a moment by moment cleansing.
This present-tense eternal life, John explains, is a two-way fellowship, with God and with each other (1:3). A vertical and horizontal relationship we might call it. The vertical is the fellowship “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”; the horizontal we will look at later on.
Living fellowship, he then says, always brings fullness of joy (1:4). Where hearts are free and open, when there is nothing between Him and ourselves, we testify with David, “My cup runneth over.” A heart at rest, a sense of His presence, the joy which overflows, is the evidence that the fellowship is undimmed. An unbroken walk with Jesus, therefore, means a cup continuously running over. This is most important. It is the red or green light in the daily walk. When the inner life is choked, when the heart is heavy, disturbed, hardened, the red light is showing. Something has come in between. How often that happens!
Just here is the danger. It is at this spot that we so easily slip into dishonesty, hypocrisy. What can stop that cup running over except sin? What is that inner flow of peace and freedom and joy but the Spirit witnessing to the presence of Jesus in our hearts? Nothing can stop Him bearing that witness, except sin. Our physical condition, circumstances, other people, can never stop Him. Only sin in the heart. But the trouble is that, through the subtlest of all hidden sins, the sin of pride and self-righteousness, I don’t want to admit that I, a believer, have slipped into sin. So I call it by another name. It is my nerves; I was born like that; it is my physical condition, my tiredness; it is the pressure of home and business life; it is my difficult relatives and neighbors—but not sin!
John, however, closes the door to such dishonesty in simple fashion, if we will walk in it. Note particularly, he says, the character of the One with whom we walk in fellowship (1:5); it is the very heart of my message to you: God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If John had said “God is love,” we could have understood it. He does say that later on, but that does not come first. The revelation of God as light precedes that of God as love. Meet Him as light, then we meet Him as love. That is the eternal order.
God is light. What does that mean? Eph. 5:13 tells us, “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” When light shines into a darkened room, its one function is to make plain what is in that room, and its one demand of us is that we respond honestly to it. In a darkened room we can call anything anything. When the light is turned on, we can by no means call a table a piano! We must call it what it is. In other words, all that God has ever required of a human being, whether saved or unsaved, is honesty. It is all we can contribute to our own salvation. We cannot remove our guilt or change a habit. But we can discern good from evil, and we can admit the truth about ourselves, as we are brought to see it.
Conviction of the Spirit
So when Jesus talks of the new birth with Nicodemus and shows him how it can be obtained, he adds one warning. There is a condemnation, He says, that condemnation is not the fact of sin, because full atonement has been made, not for our sins only, “but for the sins of the whole world.” But the condemnation is (John 3:19) “that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light…and hate the light, neither come to the light.”
Dishonesty, not sin, damns a soul. Unwillingness to part with sin and therefore refusal to admit ourselves to be what God shows us we are by His word, by preaching, by the Spirit that sends us to hell. This is true, as we have already pointed out, for the power and horror of sin is that we love it and hate that which would turn us from it.
But just as the sinner can refuse to come to the light, so we who have come may refuse to walk in the light (1 John 1:6, 7). We may easily try to deceive ourselves and others. We may say we have fellowship with Him, but really walk in darkness, and refuse to admit what light is showing us to be sin. We may say we have no sin or have not sinned (1:8, 10). But one thing we shall certainly learn, the blood of Jesus does not cleanse excuses. It cleanses, but only sin admitted to be sin, for it was shed for that purpose alone.
Note, however, that conviction of sin does not come from the inward, but the upward look. Sin is not seen to be sin by self-examination, but by the light of God. Conviction and repentance are gifts of God as much as salvation is (Acts 5:31). There is a world of difference between the nagging, corroding condemnations of the devil, and the clear convictions of the Spirit. The devil speaks in generalities, seeking to smear us by a general sense of failure, uncleanness, confusion, heaviness of spirit. The answer to that is there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. The Spirit speaks specifically, and His voice, although rebuking us, is sweet and clean and true and acceptable. He points out some exact and immediate action by which we have given temporary entrance to sin. Satan points downward to despair, but the Spirit points upwards to cleansing.
So the detection of sin in our daily lives is no difficulty. If the cups do not run over, the red light is on. There is sin somewhere. But the One with whom we walk is light. Look honestly and frankly to Him, and it won’t take Him long to clarify for us the point where we have sinned.