No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him…No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God… [1 John 3:6, 9].
Continuing our reflection on the word “abide” in John’s first letter:
We abide in Christ and the seed of God abides in us. While we will pick this passage back up in a future post, in our survey of the word “abide” in John’s letter we see that as we abide in Christ and as the seed of God abides in us that we are delivered from practicing sin as a way of life – in verse 5 John writes, You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
That John is not talking about instantaneous perfection is evident from 1:9 – 2:1: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…
From a general focus on righteousness and sin John moves to a specific focus on love and hate: He who does not love his brother abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (3:14 – 15). Yes, if we hate we abide in death, but not hating is not enough! We are called positively to love for he who does not love his brother abides in death. We may want to be left alone and to leave others alone – but that is not enough! It is not enough to harbor no ill will or hate, it is not enough simply to do no wrong to others – we are called to love others and not to love is to abide in death.
The sin of commission may be obvious – to hate is evidence of not having eternal life abiding in us; but is the sin of omission obvious? Is it obvious that not loving our brothers and sisters is evidence that we are abiding in death?
John hones in on the subject by asking: But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart (bowels of compassion) against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Perhaps we would like John to stop before he arrives at this point. Is it not enough not to hate, not to harbor ill will, not to do no harm to others? Why must John press the point that we are to love others? And then why must John insist on action? If seeing a brother in need means that I must give to that brother out of my resources (and maybe without a tax deduction!) then it is better that I not have relationships that may cost me not only time and energy but also financial resources – or so we might reason. Go away John!
The standard John sets in found in verse 16: We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. This is, of course, in line with the even as motif of John’s Gospel and his letters: we are to walk in the light even as He is in the light, we are to do righteousness even as He does righteousness, we are to love one another even as He loves us, as the Father has sent Jesus even so Jesus sends us – because Christ abides in us and we abide in Christ we are to live as Christ.
Chapter 3 concludes with two more abides: The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
Our life in the Trinity is to be one of abiding, of union with God in and through Jesus Christ. This is to be, to borrow a phrase from Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life.