Read 1 John 1–3.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. (3:6)

OK, this is confusing. John says, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and then he proclaims that “no one who abides in him sins.” Um, John, did you forget what you just said on the previous page?

Paul says that the good that he wishes to do he does not do, and the evil that he would avoid, that he does. “Who will save me from this body of death?” Who’s in control of your actions, there, Paul, if not you?

Peter says, “you’ll never wash my feet.” After Jesus replies, “if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me,” Peter says “wash not just my feet but my whole self.” To that Jesus replies, “you are already clean. You just need to have the dust of the road washed off your feet.” So which is it, is Peter clean, or not?

Jesus himself, in the Garden of Gethsemene, prays that the cup be taken from him. But then he takes it back and says “your will be done.” Do you want to drink the cup, or not?

~ ~ ~

How do you answer when someone asks you to introduce yourself? We define ourselves in many ways—what we do, who we are related to, what we know, what we have, what people think of us. (Most of the ways we define ourselves seem to be designed to make others think well of us.) A colleague, James K. A. Smith, recently wrote a book entitled You Are What You Love. In it, he draws our attention back toward what we love as the deepest indication of who we are. And he points out that we may not love what we think we love. We say we want to lose weight, but when push comes to shove, we eat that donut. We say we love our neighbors, but we spend most of our money on ourselves. We say we love God, but most of what we do serves self.

What we love is of course what is in our hearts—our affections. And the affections are “the mainspring of the will,” according to Jonathan Edwards. What we love (not what we say we love, not even what we wish we loved) drives what we do.

Is it possible that what we love is not what we want to love? Or is that an absurd infinite regress? Do we want to love what we want to love?

~ ~ ~

It’s pretty clear that there are different parts of us with different desires. Paul names the flesh and the spirit. And then there is the Holy Spirit, whom we have been given. How do all of these different wills, these different loves, interact? God doesn’t override our will, and yet he certainly breathes into it. When we pray for more love, he warms the heart. Maybe even sets it aflame. Who or what is it in me that is ultimately in charge?

It seems to me that the interaction of human and divine will, and of the various parts of the human will, and of the Spirit or the devils in us, is a very deep question getting at the nature of humanity, its distinction from divinity, the source of sin, the nature of salvation, union with God, and much else.

“Abandon yourself to God,” it sounds so easy, but it is in fact so very difficult, so costly, such a monumental miracle, that it requires the death of Jesus, with us following along. Can you truly and thoughtfully pray “your kingdom come, your will be done”?

~ ~ ~

Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar. (2:4)

Whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. (2:6)

Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. (2:10)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.

This is the nature of love: that we seek to please the one we love. We seek the good of the one we love. Love cannot be hidden. If someone loves another person, it’s evident to all. The lover is attentive and considerate. They rejoice when the loved one rejoices and they cry when the loved one cries. They try to please the loved one.

So it is with God. When someone loves God it can’t be hidden. They organize their whole lives around pleasing God. They obey his commandments. It is in the actions that actual love is expressed. Sin is the very definition of not actually loving God.

If a lover cheats on his beloved, well, his love was obviously defective.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (2:1-2)

When this love is in ascendency, when it rules the roost, when we abide in Christ, considered, intentional sin is not possible, just as cheating on one you truly love is not possible. However, sometimes we aren’t aware of what we are doing. The sin and the awareness that we are sinning come at about the same time. We do what we did not want to do. We immediately repent. Our culpability is minor—though we should have been been aware of what we were doing. Watch and pray, that you do not fall into sin.

If we are aware that we are considering doing something that we are aware God doesn’t want us to do, and if we decide to do it anyway, that is a very grave matter that shows that we don’t actually love God. I hope the 30 pieces of silver were worth it. But even then, if we repent, Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (3:1-3)

If we desire and determine not to offend the one we love, we are children of God now. We desire and intend not to sin. There is a part of us that does not consent to sin, even if we fall into sin through inattention or weakness. We are clean; we just need to have the dust of the road washed off of our feet.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. (2:15-17)

And yet so much remains to do and to correct. We do not yet love God purely, with our whole hearts. There are parts of our hearts that still love the things of the world. Fortunately, God is willing to afflict us with all sorts of strange and wonderful forms of suffering that root these desires out of us.

As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him. (2:27)

As these foreign loves are rooted out, as your love for God gains ascendency, as you are more and more led by the Spirit of Christ, he will teach you all things. When our love is pure and unclouded, it perceives the things of God. It has a hold on God. It captures God. It becomes like God. God gives it whatever it asks for in prayer.

Abide in Christ.

Every day, pray for more love, that you may abide in Christ.

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and