My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:1–6)
There is a story - probably apocryphal - about the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon. He is said to have been attending a conference where he heard a preacher teaching that is possible to live perfect, sinless lives. In fact, went on the preacher, he had himself reached such an elevated state and no longer sinned. Spurgeon was unconvinced, and the next morning at breakfast he crept up behind the preacher and emptied a jug of milk over him. The man reacted as you would expect: in rage. Spurgeon had proved his point. There is no such thing as sinless perfection this side of glory. As John wrote just before today’s passage: “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
So should we just shrug our shoulders, and give up trying? Well, no. To be complacent about sin is the opposite error, and does no justice to Christianity. In fact, John insists that if we say are Christian, but then ignore Jesus’ commandments were are no Christians at all. To quote Jesus himself: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). To be Christian is to be Christlike, and to “walk in the same way in which he walked”.
Ok then. John is saying that we can’t be perfect, but we have to keep Christ’s commandments. Which is it? Can we or can’t we?
The way to square this circle is to realise that Christianity is supposed to be lived from the inside out. If we ‘come to know’ Jesus, then our hearts will be changed. As Paul puts it, you will be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Our desire to keep Christ’s commandments is a sign of that renewal. We might stumble, we might be imperfect but we are still seeking to live in the light. We seek to “keep his word”.
And when we do stumble, we can be comforted that we have a saviour who has earned our forgiveness.