How do we overcome the remnants of our indwelling sin and the enemies that stir them up? How do we resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil? We have talked often about the theological answer to these questions; overcoming sin by the power of the resurrected Christ literally living His life through us. But what does that look like in practice? Let’s take a look at some specifics.
The world. We overcome the world by our love for Jesus. “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (I Jn 2:15-16).
In the gospel of John, chapters 13 – 17, Jesus emphasizes the connection between love and obedience. Simply put, our love for Jesus will motivate us to obey. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn 15:9-11).
When we abide in Christ’s love, the love of Jesus and of the Father abides in us. And this love will so fill us up that our love of the world will grow distant and dim. Our desire to obey will increase. And the beauty and end result of this love and obedience is incredible joy. There is a joy in obedience – when motivated by our love relationship with Christ – that completely supersedes the promised joy of the world. Obedience is not a drudgery; it is a source of joy. The lure of the world diminishes as we experience the joy of loving and following and serving Jesus.
Earlier in His upper room discourse, Jesus makes the same love and obedience connection. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper [Gk. Paraclete, one called alongside to help], that He may be with you forever” (Jn 14:15-16). In this instance, Jesus promises a Helper in our quest to keep His commandments.
It is as if Jesus is saying, “Because you love Me, you are going to want to keep My commandments. But you are not going to be able to keep them through your own self-effort. So I am sending my Spirit to live inside you (Jn 14:17), and He – living inside – will empower your obedient life.” Once again, it is Jesus Himself who provides even the guide within us to know and follow the way beyond sin.
This obedient life, energized by love, overcomes the siren call of the world; a world that is fading away. “And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever” (I Jn 2:17).