Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.1 John 5:1-5
There is a way to carry out the commands of God that is legalistic, self-righteous, and that comes from a place of performance. This is what we see in the Pharisees. Yet, there is a way to carry out the commands of God that comes from a place of love for God. The opposite of legalism for the Christian is not a life filled with sin and rebellion. The cure for legalism is not licentiousness. We don’t avoid becoming the older son by becoming the prodigal son. The goal is to become like the father (Luke 15:11-32).
John teaches us here in 1 John 5 that love for God looks like following His commands. But unlike the Pharisees, when we live from a place of love the commands of God do not become burdensome. Love for God causes us to want to surrender our whole life to Him and obey everything He tells us to do. Jesus confirms this when he says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
When we are living from a place of fear, however, obedience feels like performing in order to avoid punishment. It feels like flexing a muscle and seeing how long we can hold it. But John reminds us:
This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.1 John 4:17-19
Living and obeying from a place of loving God starts with receiving His love for us. When we bask in His love for us, we then return love to Him by joyfully obeying Him. We end up wanting to live how He has commanded us to live in the scriptures. We want to do what He has commanded us to do personally. We don’t obey out of fear. We are compelled to obey out of love.
Obedience from a place of fear and performance is worried about what God will do to us if we don’t obey. Obedience from a place of love understands that He is a gracious God, and that it is not Him but instead our disobedience that harms our love relationship with Him. Obedience from a place of love understands that whatever He’s asked of us is the best for His Kingdom. And His Kingdom is what we are seeking first above our own comfort and life-plans (Matthew 6:33). It’s not about us in the end, but about Him.
This mindset is where we find the victory. This is where we overcome the world. The world cannot kill something that’s already been put to death. The world cannot steal something that has already been surrendered into the hands of the Lord. We can trust Him to be faithful as He guides and directs our life.