“Now by this we know that we know Him…” I John 2:3
Recently I had an unpleasant experience with potholes. Not just a couple of them, but a couple hundred of them. Apparently, interstates in the south handle encounters with ice as well as I handle encounters with slugs…we both have a come apart! Such was the case on a recent trip to Nashville in which my car’s response to a series of potholes was to, well, have a come apart; at least that’s what the two front tires did. After miles and miles of hearing “bu-dump, bu-dump” as I went in and out of potholes, my car finally went ker-plunk. It had reached the end of its road and I had reached the end of my rope; unfortunately, neither ends were close to home.
Today, as I was reading from I John, I felt the same jolts I did that day on the interstate. My whole body felt the “bu-dump, bu-dump” of I John each time I read “by-this, by-this”. It was like hitting spiritual potholes; each one jostled me about and their unrelenting frequency soon left me feeling much like my tires did on the interstate…worn out, give out, and aired out. That’s when I started looking for the purpose of the potholes and discovered the connection between John’s “by this” statements and his suggestions for realignment. John not only lets the “by this” bumps jar us into action but he also provides road hazard coverage that helps with our realignment for when we’ve come to the end of our road…and our rope. Turns out I’m more like my car than I realized: easily jarred, affected by the road I travel, and likely to have a come apart. (There’s also a similarity between the number of miles my car has traveled and the number of miles I have traveled, but that’s another metaphor…and another story.)
Beginning with I John 3:16, John sets off a series of “by this” jolts that forces us to look at how we, as children of God, are to be living. His first pothole strikes by reminding us that we, like Christ, should be willing to lay down our lives for one another; “by this we know love”. Then, just three verses later, he hits again by saying we are to love one another with our actions, not just with our words; “by this we know that we are of the truth”. Before we can regain composure from that hit, John releases another blow in verse 24 that informs us we are to be known by the One who lives within us; “by this we know that He abides in us”. And, being a little off balance from this jarring, we find ourselves jostled again with the potholes found in 4:2 and 4:6 that tell us to only trust those who preach that Jesus is the Son of God and who are willing to receive counsel from the word of God; “by this you know the Spirit of God and by this we know the spirit of truth”. Finally, with one last tire shredding dip, we hit the biggest pothole of all in I John 5:2; “by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments”. Bu-dump.
How, you might be wondering, am I equating the “by this” statements in I John with potholes? Perhaps a little explanation is necessary. You see, just as the potholes that riddled the interstate jarred me, so too did these statements. As I read each one, I asked myself if I bore the characteristics they depicted. If someone looked at my “vehicle”, would they know that I am a child of God? Do I love others more than myself…more than my own life? Do I show this love through actions and not just through words? (How often have I been too quick to say, “I’ll pray for you,” and yet gone no further than that? Where were the actions that supported the words?) Is the Holy Spirit evident in my life…do I speak truth and am I willing to listen to those who share godly counsel? Do I keep God’s commandments and thus show my allegiance to Him? Each question caused a jolt; each one threatened to deflate me and put me in need of some roadside assistance. How, in this current state of disrepair, was I to ensure I was truly aligned with all God wanted me to be? I needed to have my axle checked. Thankfully, help was found in the first two chapters of I John.
John began this book by giving us an evaluative tool so that we could check our own alignment. He does so by listing a string of “if we” statements that show whether or not we are balanced. His list includes contrasts such as: if we say…but don’t walk; if we walk…but don’t practice; if we confess…but don’t forgive; if we claim…but don’t keep. Then, he gives us an example of what a true alignment looks like: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (I John 2:6) The contrast statements show us that our words and our deeds must come from the same tank; they must be fueled from the same Source. We cannot say we have fellowship with God and then not partake in fellowship with others; we cannot receive His forgiveness and then act as if we were never in need of His grace; we cannot carry on as if we know God and then act as if we don’t know what He’s told us to do. Our outward practice must align with our inward position if we are to be identified as children of God.
The evaluation process is simple, but the readjustment isn’t so easy. The truth is, God never meant for us to be responsible for our own realignment. Thankfully, when it comes to taking care of our vehicles, God’s towing service is always available and His repair shop is always open. He does give us enough turbulence to keep us unsettled so that we don’t find ourselves halfway to our destination without any awareness of how we’ve gotten there. God wants us to enjoy the journey and arrive safely at our final destination, but He doesn’t want us asleep at the wheel or oblivious to the traffic around us. So, He purposefully places some potholes along our path to remind us to keep our eyes on the road, our hands on the wheel, and our Mechanic on speed dial!
Just as there will always be potholes along our public roadways, so too will there be potholes along our personal pathways. But if we allow the personal ones to veer us off of our path long enough to evaluate our present condition, we’ll find they are truly divinely placed and supremely purposeful.