In the board game Monopoly, the “get out of jail free” card features a cartoon image of Rich Uncle Pennybags, an elderly millionaire, flying out of a bird-cage. Players who obtain the card can avoid the penalty of losing several turns in the game languishing in the corner jail.
As believers, we have a better “get out of jail free” card. Jesus has made the ultimate atoning sacrifice for our sins (v. 2). We can avoid the penalty of lost fellowship with God. But this card does not give us a pass for sinfulness. In this passage, John explains why, if we have been forgiven, we must still address our sinful behavior.
First, we are called to live as Jesus did (v. 6). We serve a Savior who experienced trials and temptations similar to our own but did not sin (Heb. 4:15). If we identify with Jesus, how can we continue to practice sinful behavior? John uses stern language for such a person who tolerates or even pursues sin while claiming to be a believer (v. 4).
Second, darkness and light cannot coexist. If we have been moved into the kingdom of light, we cannot continue to pursue the deeds of darkness (v. 8). There can be no disconnect between what we say we believe and the ways that we choose to live.
The overall tone of this passage is one of affection. Notice how many times John uses phrases like “dear children” (v. 1). He cares about these believers who have declared Christ as Savior, and he wants them to experience the full power and blessing of forgiveness: “I write to you . . . because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (v. 14).
Some people think of salvation like “fire insurance”—they can live however they like and still avoid going to hell. This is not biblical! Our salvation in Christ means that we are in the light, free from the penalty and death and free to be in a relationship with our holy, loving God. We are called to become more and more like our Savior.