John reminds us that walking in the truth means living our lives and realizing our culpability before God. As Isaiah says, and Paul agrees, no one is righteous and never sins. That person just doesn’t exist. The story of Diogenes and what most people remember about him is that he wandered around ancient Greece carrying a lantern, searching for an honest man, which he never found. He did this to prove his point that there was no such thing. I’m wondering if Diogenes had read the book of Isaiah. Instead of trying to look for someone righteous, John tells us to walk around in the truth of our own sinfulness. That will enable us to love even the other sinners around us. If you walk in love, you will keep the commandments from the heart, not from the works of the flesh. Thus, God will remove the heart of stone and replace it with a truly human heart with its flaws and failures. It’s a matter of love, not law. So, John continues this subject in 2 John 1:6 when he says, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning so that you should walk in it.”

The New Testament makes a big deal about understanding the importance of love for God and others. Jesus named these two as the most important of all the commandments. He said that all the rest of the laws either depend on them or are suspended from them.  In this verse, John wants us to understand that we shouldn’t walk around in life searching for righteousness in others. Like Diogenes, you’ll live a very disappointing life. But if you walk in the truth of your own sinfulness, understanding that God loves you anyway, you too will be able to love others in spite of their failures and frailties. God loves sinners. As both John the Baptist and Jesus preached, the first step in the Christian life is to repent. That doesn’t mean to say you are sorry for something you did wrong. That’s confession. We should confess to God for forgiveness of that sin and to others we have wronged to find healing in our relationships. Repentance is different. One blogger explained the idea pretty well. He said, “I am a sinner.  If you don’t know that about me, then you don’t really know me.  I am a sinner by birth (Rom. 5:12-18; Ps. 51:5), by nature (Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  You are a sinner.  Suppose you don’t know that about yourself, then you don’t really know yourself.  God loves sinners.  If you don’t know that about God, then you don’t really know God.”[1]

We are all sinners before we are saved and after we are saved. Johnny Cash once did an album called American Recordings. On the album cover is a picture of two dogs. One dog is black with a white stripe. The other dog is white with a black stripe. The two dogs are meant to say something about Johnny Cash. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cash explains what the two dogs mean. “Their names are Sin and Redemption. Sin is the black one with the white stripe; Redemption is the white one with the black stripe.” Before salvation, sin has not totally destroyed the image of God in which we have been created. There’s still a white stripe to which the Gospel is always appealing. After redemption, a black stripe of sin remains, and we constantly battle it. We are all sinners who need to be redeemed. We all need Jesus.[2] If we fall prey to the false teaching that we no longer sin after coming to faith in Jesus, we will find it’s nearly impossible to love other sinners. We become the pharisee who looks down upon the sinner at the time of prayer at the temple. We become Diogenes looking for perfect people. We judge others in every part of their lives according to our victories or priorities while ignoring our own weaknesses. Only Jesus was perfect. I am a sinner. You are a sinner. When we both see ourselves as God sees us, we can have fellowship with each other. We are all in the same boat. A true Christian has two things in common that foster healthy relationships. First, he is a sinner. Second, he believes Jesus died for his sins. We are pulling on these two oars in our boat as we cruise through life.

[1] I am a sinner – Thinking on Scripture

[2] Larson, Craig Brian. 2002. 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.