Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.
And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.
No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.
The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
The one who does what is sinful is of the devil,
because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them;
they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.
This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are:
Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child,
nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
I John 3:4-10
The themes we have had repeatedly in I John have been righteous living, love for fellow believers, and lovers of truth, both in doctrine (especially regarding who Christ is) and discernment (truth vs. error).
Now it seems John is going back over these same themes but this time he is bringing out the contrasts. For me, looking at contrasts is very helpful and solidifies the truth being taught. In this section, the contrast is between righteousness and sin. Earlier in the book, it is also likened to darkness and light or living in the light vs. walking in darkness.
Those metaphors and contrasts are helpful to me. Probably because the word righteousness is so intimidating! I think of righteous living as being something like GOD’s holiness and I am instantly intimidated, overwhelmed and want to run the other way. Righteousness or holiness is so not me naturally. That’s not a feeling, that’s truth!
Yes, I can appear pretty good if I work very hard at it, but I am also aware that I am not that way on the inside. Sooner or later, the real me shows her ugly face! As I have stopped trying to appear perfect…which happened long ago for those who know me have realized! The inside and outside are much more congruent and real. I don’t have this sweet fascade and this internal battle going on that struggles over what others think of me like I once did…well, I never had the sweet fascade! I can’t say the struggle never happens, but it is nothing like it once was.
This may not be the secret to a happy life, but if your outside is truer to your inside, you will be behaving more along the lines of what your true attitude is within socially acceptable behavior, of course, and you will be able to deal more with your actual attitudes that are showing instead of shoving them down all the time and paying pretend.
I don’t know if all that makes sense. Of course, I’m not saying to live out everything you feel. That certainly doesn’t comply with this Scripture either. All I am saying is that if you try to live a fake “righteous” life externally, particularly if they are by the standards of other people, will find yourself tied up into knots and looking and feeling a lot more like a pretzel!
You will be anything but free in Christ. You will be tied up in knots and in no way living the way Christ intended for you. He doesn’t expect you to live according to the standards of others’ views of righteousness! Nor does He want you in any way to live to please other people. You are here to glorify GOD not people.
He is the only one who knows your motives, your thought processes, the deep temptations and sins of your heart and soul, the sins of your past that you want no one to know about. He knows all of it. He has seen all of it. He knows who has manipulated you…and who you have manipulated into doing things that shouldn’t have been done. In the end, what He thinks and judges about you is what will count. What other people think will not amount to a pile of garbage!
Sin and its Origins (vss. 4, 8a)
We review the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of sin as:
Any wont of conformity unto,
or transgression of,
the Law of GOD.
This definition (in I John) of sin as lawlessness…is pretty obvious. So often we think of the breaking of rules as sinning. But it is more than that. Think of the Ten Commandments.
One command is Thou shalt have no other GODs before me. Yet, how often do we find other things getting ahead of our worship and love for GOD? All the time! Not only do we put other GODs ahead of the one true GOD in terms of priorities, but we don’t love GOD above all. We break that command by both ommission and commission. And we do it often!
We are told not to covet. We not only break that command and covet, but we break the spirit of the command which is to be content and we are discontent in our life situations in many ways. We are not content with GOD’s provision no matter what it is. If we have an $80,000 home, we want a $150,000 home with x or y amenities. If we have a $1 million home, we want a $2 million home with further amenities and conveniences…and so it goes.
Our desires may not be along the lines of a home or those kinds of possessions, they may be in other areas, but wherever our desires may be, we want what we want in widening circles beyond what we have. There are very few of us who are truly content with what they have…right now.
Which leads me to another definition of sin: I want my own way. Watching a 2 year old shows how native that attitude is to each human! We want our own way and we will do whatever it takes to get it. Browbeating a parent, manipulating (often when we are a little older), whining, or just ignoring what we are told and going for it…all are ways we go our own way!
As we age, we get more sophisticated in our methods of sinning, but our heart is the same. We want it and we will do what we need to to get it! Isaiah 53:6 is certainly a perfect example of that thinking!
The Gnostics, who had a strong influence on the church with their false teaching at this time, were prone to minimize sin or excuse it. Of course, that teaching is still around today! Unfortunately, when we do that…and most of us do at some point no matter what we profess to believe, we miss out on the grace and forgiveness that the prodigal son experienced when he returned to the Father.
It is only when we admit our sin, face up to all its gore…the effect it has on us, on those we love, on those who love us and on Christ who died to pay for it. It is when we humble ourselves, repent of it and return to the Father, that we enjoy the renewed relationship and forgiveness that only true reconciliation can bring.
The Work of Christ (vss. 5, 8b)
So we are reminded that the characteristic of the devil is to sin. And the characteristic of Christ is to take away sin!
Not only did Jesus come to take away sin for His people, but He came to destroy the works of the devil! Is that not encouraging?
Of course, for the first, He became the propitiation for our sin as it says in I John 2:2 taking on the full fury of the Father against all the sin of the world for all time. The only one who could pay this eternal penalty was Jesus, who had never sinned. (cf. 3:5)
When it comes to destroying the works of the devil in the lives of people, that happens as they trust Christ for salvation by faith and He starts changing their lives bit by bit. As we understand that our lives are a place where Satan has set up residence until Christ came to bring new life to them. It can revolutionize our thinking about what GOD is doing here on earth.
By obeying Him and allowing Him to change us, He is destroying the works of the devil as he changes us to be more like Him. It is pretty exciting stuff. Not from our perspective, from our perspective it can often be painful and often dull. But when we think about it, we can look back and see GOD’s hand that has been working and changing us.
Sin and the Christian Life (vss. 6,9)
The thing about being a Christian is that a Christan won’t keep on sinning. I have to write that in faith. I know how often I fail, sinning repeatedly. I’m not altogether sure what that even means. Boice gave many possible meanings here. I won’t go down the list. Some are more apropros than others.
I think he is saying that once you are a believer, you have Christ’s seed in you. You won’t continue to sin in the same way all the time. You will not continue in the same sin indefinitely. There is no promise how long it will take, or that there is any sort of formula to it. But it does say that GOD’s presence in your life will grow and righteous living will be part of that growth in you. It won’t be automatic or easy, but it will happen by GOD’s grace as part of your growth process.
But you will never, on this side of heaven, be sinless. (cf. I John 1:9-10)
An Appeal for Righteousness (vss. 7, 10)
Once again, the false Gnostic belief comes up here. John cuts through all the confusion as to who belongs to Christ and who doesn’t. Being a believer is not based on some special knowledge. It is based on being born of Christ into the family of GOD or not. It is really quite simple.
Second, is there evidence that you are part of GOD’s family as seen by righteous living? No, not a perfect life, but a life characterized by growth in grace and a desire not to tolerate sin in your life but to be humble and turn from sin and to Christ…and willing to admit you are sinful and in need of GOD’s grace.
There are so many layers and aspects to our sin.
- Are we willing to turn from the path of darkness to the path of Light (righteousness)?
- Are we willing to be honest concerning our sin? Both regarding the depth of its sinfulness, the effect of it on those we love, the long term effect of it on our family/children? (to name a few)
- Are we willing to look with discernment on our behavior and see some of it as sin rather than being tolerant of it and calling it something else less honest?
There are times when a correct diagnosis of a sin problem will allow us to treat it with a solution that will actually help it…like the forgiveness of Christ!