Connections 04.18.21: Realistic Idealism (or Idealistic Realism)

1 John 3:1-10

First John was written to a Christian community that was dealing with dissension and schism. The division in the community was prompted by people who claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human. This belief led the false teachers to claim that committing sins wasn’t that big a deal. In particular, they seemed to be fine with committing the great sin of not loving their fellow Christians.

John insists that committing sins is a big deal.

In so doing, he sets the bar very high. He says that God’s children don’t sin and that children of the devil do sin (3:8-9). John seems to be saying that Christians should never sin and that if they do, they might have cause to question their spiritual parentage.

Now, I am not comfortable saying that John is engaging in hyperbole. But I am comfortable pointing our that earlier in this book he also said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” and, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us” (1: 8, 10).

It seems to me that John offers us the opportunity to think about the need to strive for the ideal as we deal with the real. This isn’t to say that the ideal is separate from the real or has no connection with the real. It is to say that the ideal can’t quite be reached, so it is something we are always to be striving for.

What is the ideal we should be striving for? Put too simply, we should want to obey God in the ways we live. John says a lot about that in this book. In one place he says, “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (3:23). We should strive to reach the goal of living the ways Jesus showed and told us we should live. In particular, we should strive to love as Jesus loved.

We will not achieve that ideal in this life. But we won’t get any closer to it than we are now (and let’s be brave enough to ask ourselves how far from it we really are) if we don’t try.

Striving for the ideal is hard. It’s hard because of what we encounter in these real lives that we must live. But we can make more progress than we might think we can. And it is counter-productive to blame a lack of progress on our real-life struggles. We do better to continually ask ourselves how constantly striving for the ideal of loving as Jesus loves changes the ways we deal with real life.

The best hitters in the world play Major League Baseball. The best of those best hitters get a hit about three out of every ten times they bat. The last player to get a hit four out of every ten times he batted was Ted Williams, who had a batting average of .406 in 1941. It’s unlikely that any player will approach that level again.

But if anyone ever comes close, you’ll know that at least he tried.

Discussion

  • How should God’s love inspire our efforts to live up to God’s ideals for us?
  • How should our anticipation of Christ’s return lead us to “purify” ourselves (v. 3)?
  • What does it mean to “abide” in Christ (v. 6)?
  • Why is growing in love such a vital part of striving to reach our ideal as Christians?
  • How should our striving to reach our ideal affect the ways we conduct our “real” lives?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara, grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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