John tells us in his first epistle "there is no fear in love". That when our love for God has been perfected, there will be no fear of punishment. I wasn't raised on that thinking. In fact, a different theme from the old testament was emphasized: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." In this passage the aim is wisdom. In John's teaching, the aim is relationship. In the O.T. passage as I understand it, the word "fear" is better understood as "respect" or "reverence." (I buy that. God is awesome and to be respected and held in awe above anything or anyone. He is to be worshipped in utter broken humility.) Yet we are not to pursue fear!
And so what do we pursue? We pursue Christ. We accept his love and get on with the celebration of life eternal! We can't even take credit for this. John says that "we love God because he first loved us." Even though John spends considerable time speaking of sin, he seems to be asking people to focus on God's love, rather than focus our lives on avoiding or managing sin.
We are taught to "walk in the light," and reminded that we should not sin, or continue in the path of sinning. To stay in sin would be "walking in darkness," and it is equated not with breaking a list of rules, but with hating. That's right. For John, the dear friend of Jesus, sin equals hate. Darkness is hate. Light is love.
How did Jesus relate to sinners and sin? First, we see him being condemned by religiuos leaders as "a friend of sinners." They are not avoided, he loves them. While it is true that when he forgives the woman caught in adultery, he tells her to "go and sin no more." We mustn't forget, however, that his first words to her are "Neither do I condemn you." The assumption here is that the grace given in forgiveness is so overwhelming, that persistence in sin won't be a consideration.
What did Paul say about life after forgiveness? "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." REALLY? Is there condemnation for you if you believe you sin every day in word, thought and deed? I am beginning to live with the hunch that this good news is a lot better than I've been led to believe. That being called by John in his first letter to "live as Jesus did," and to see to it that "God's love is made complete in us," is not an invitation to some obstacle course with God sitting above waiting to see if we error. Rather it is truly a freedom to live as free people. Free not only from the guilt of past sin and the need to live in current ones, but free also of the weight of the law that constantly finds us falling short. I believe that our faith is intended to be fluid and real. Not forced and measured out in devotionals accomplished and temptations avoided. Rather, we are to flow the person and presence of Jesus from our living; naturally, and without fear.
Some of you theologians who know me, may be seeing signs of my native doctrine. The Wesleyan doctrine of holiness is full of such hope as mentioned above. Too often however, I'm afraid it is married to some post-gospel legalism that leaves us wanting.