1 John 3:1-10
If we weigh the state of the church, we shall find a great deal of what is negative in the Christian life, and contentedness with what is negative. For example, a man sees sin, he takes for granted that there must be sin in him, and it is true and well that he should know it, provided it be not working; he sees the blood of Christ, and is happy. If his flesh is kept in check as to positive sin, and the blood of Christ is seen, he is content. That is what I call negative—a person settling in himself that sin is, and is met by the cross of Christ. It is not as speaking lightly of the cross that I say this. There is nothing like the cross. God Himself is glorified by it. The glory we can have with Christ, but on the cross He was alone.
This condition flows greatly from all that is of nature not having been judged, and the heart then occupied with Christ. When there is a positive life in exercise which attaches itself to Him, and sees the excellency in Him, it never can be satisfied without seeking to have and be that which it sees in Him. Being free from sin—freed, if you please (for when this word is used in Scripture it refers to slavery), there is the positive activity of delighting in Christ. The heart is so far delivered from sin as to delight positively in Christ.
John takes up a positive active life, in the activity of which he supposes the Christian lives, and which has joys and delights of its own. “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons [children] of God!”
I get the nature of which we are made partakers shewn from the life which is lived. If He is righteous, we know that every one who doeth righteousness has the manifested character of that nature, is born of Him. Where has it come from? From God. I recognise this relationship of a child by the nature that is manifested. The apostle is not merely thinking of what we are in the title of righteousness, but of whom we are born—whence we draw our life. Hence it is that he says in verse 9, “cannot sin,” for it is the nature of God in which we live as born again. He takes the truth up, as he does on every subject, in its own absoluteness, without modifying it by the contradictory principle in us. But the result of the possession of this life is brought in in remarkable terms. We are born of God, but the life which we have received is that eternal life which was manifested in Christ; chap, i:1-3. Hence he says, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” no one has seen the glory, “but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We shall be like Him; it is from the blessed consciousness of this, and the object thus set before us, that the activity of this life now flows. “And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself” (he does not say is pure, but) “even as he is pure.” That is, the measure and standard which he has before his soul is Christ as its object.
How different this is from the negative state, occupied with sin, perhaps thinking how I shall get rid of it! I am a child of Adam is the thought of such an one; no, I say, I am a child of God. If we are sufficiently emptied of self to have Christ before us in this double way, as the life in which we live, and the object for which we live, then the affections are associated with the object we like; and He is not merely object but life. The power of the life is exactly in the measure in which Christ is the object. There is where a Christian is happy. His soul’s affections are set free and occupied with Christ. He is the One we love and delight in, and we want to be like Him and with Him. If your heart is dragging through the world, and you are trying to get as free from all the spots as you can, you cannot be happy. This positive life is real liberty of heart, and that is what happiness means. He purifies himself as He is pure.
If I am not living this fife of Christ, the old lawless thing is active. When there is not the activity of divine life, there is not merely failure in this, but there is the activity of the Adam life, and it is always lawless. “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not,” and whosoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood abides in Christ and Christ in him; that is, if I am eating Christ and occupied with Christ, I do not commit sin, nor is my mind living in the sphere in which it has power. If you are not abiding in Him, you will get down to the other state I have spoken of, the mere avoiding of positive evil, while living in the sphere of thought in which flesh can find itself at home, while the spiritual affections are dull and inactive. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” I am in Christ on the same footing of righteousness, as to my walk down here, that He is, as partaker of the same nature and looking forward to a perfect conformity to Him. We have a positive life in itself, which is itself. There is this positive life in connection with Christ who is our life, and this life lives entirely on Him. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that 1 live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,” etc. This is the way it lives. It has these two traits— practical righteousness, and love of the brethren.
A word on the way the soul gets into this living on Christ and with Him. I do not believe you can ever do that until you get free in your conscience. Till then you cannot get beyond this negative conflict with sin, which avoids the evil the new life sees and judges. If I have the new life, I find the sin in me; and if I have not the consciousness of divine righteousness, I cannot delight in Christ as set free; that is, I must think of the sin. Is not God holy? And have not I sins? not merely guilt, but sins in my members? Yes; then “he that committeth sin is of the devil.” Well, I commit sin, and hence I am afraid. That is, the workings of flesh come back on my conscience, and I must be occupied with self. The soul is not discharged from self as the ground of its standing before God, though there be divinely given, self-humbling conviction of sin, enough to be cast over on divine righteousness in Christ. It has not been brought to see that the case is perfectly hopeless and then to be cast over entirely on Christ. When brought to this, I am taken out of flesh by this work of redemption in Christ, so that I am made the righteousness of God in Him, and I do not look at myself to know if I am righteous before God.
What a contrast between that kind of negative life, with the head just above water and which says, I am alive, so I ought to be thankful, and this positive joyful life which goes out in active energy after Christ! But in order to this the staff of confidence in self must be snapped. If your hearts are with the world, this is not living on Christ. You have these difficulties because you are inclined to them and nourish what is the seat of them by continually letting your heart move on in the sphere where Christ is not. Christ Himself is not enough your object. There is surely grace enough in Him to help, when He is looked to, and His strength is made perfect in weakness.