Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness…No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him…the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appears for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. [From 1John 3:4 – 8].
Here John picks up his earlier theme of sin and obedience, of lawlessness and keeping God’s commandments, of love and hate, of Jesus and the enemy. We wonder why John thinks it necessary to reiterate that, “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in Him,” (2:4). Would today’s churches tolerate this kind of preaching?
Churches that tolerate sin as a way of life are not likely to welcome the straightforward preaching of the Apostle John; nor are churches that believe that lives of sin are the inevitable result of living in a fallen world even though one is a new creation in Jesus Christ. Then there are churches who insist that a special experience will render Christians sinless, they deny the reality of sin and hold to their special experience in the face of the evidence – they welcome some of John’s words but they gloss over 1John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
There is a difference between living a life in which sin is the norm and not the exception, and in living a life in Jesus Christ in which righteousness is the norm and sin is the exception. When John writes (3:6) No one who abides in him sins, we know from 1John 1:5 – 2:2 that this does not mean that we will never sin because this earlier passage contains provision for us when we do sin, there is no need for provision for something that is impossible to happen. “…and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin…If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…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…”
There is yet another situation in which John’s message is critical, and that is a situation in which our beliefs and our actions are disconnected, in which we believe that what we say we believe (the Bible) and what we do need not correspond to each other, and in which feelings and personal special knowledge validate the things we do – whether or not those things are in obedience to God’s commands. In this milieu what I feel about something, or the special knowledge I have about something, is more important than my obedience to Jesus Christ. This is the age in which we live. How else can we explain the rampant sexual activity outside of marriage in the professing church? How else can we understand the entertainment choices professing Christians make and the images they expose themselves and their children to? How else can we view the disrespectful and disdainful attitude that many Christians have to those in civic authority? How else can we explain the failure of Christians to responsibly share the Gospel with those around them?
John writes in 3:7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;” Read the entire letter of John at one sitting and count the number of times the theme of keeping God’s commands arises, it is a theme of the letter, obedience to the commandments of our Father and of Jesus Christ, an obedience enabled by the Holy Spirit, is a dominant theme. Unlike the Law of Moses, this is a theme born of the Holy Spirit dwelling in God’s people, the covenant is internal and not external, it is the call and response of heart relationship – God calls us to obedience and we respond in obedience – it is a motif of life.
John concludes his letter with, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” We are either obeying God or we are obeying idols – we’re being obedient to someone or something other than ourselves (as much as we may think we’re not, as much as we may think we are independent) – who are we obeying, God or idols? What are the idols of our minds, our hearts, our finances, our bodies, our desires?
Little children, make sure no one deceives you…