Today, we’re going to talk about sin. I know… exciting isn’t it? One of the things that I often get criticized for at Real Life is not talking about sin from the stage enough. Now, while that is certainly not true and we discuss sin a lot from stage every time we talk about money, relationships, etc., we often don’t meet people’s expectation of the stereotypical “fire and brimstone” types of teaching on the subject. I won’t apologize for that. However, today in our journey through 1 John this summer, we come to a text that is, admittedly, uncomfortable to many, including me, and it is centered around John’s understanding of sin:
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. (1 John 3:4-10).
John describes sin as a condition, a lawlessness, of which all of humanity is enchained and needs Jesus to free them. According to the verse above, once freed from sin, the follower of Jesus remains freed from sin and lives for God. Now, Paul tells us, famously, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). With this much, we can agree. However, when John starts talking about “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” and “the one who does what is sinful is of the devil,” this seems to be taking it to another level. Through Jesus, we are forgiven and freed from sin. However, does that mean that if we sin after we’re saved, that we aren’t really saved? Does that mean if we keep on sinning that God doesn’t love us and we aren’t actually children of God in the first place?
Let’s not be so quick to separate this verse with what we’ve read so far up to this point. Remember, John has been talking about deceivers (2:26), false teachers (2:19), and, as we saw last time, antichrists (2:18). And he probably still is. He is directly talking to believers, who are a part of the church community, who are in danger of being deceived by these sorts of people infiltrating the community. “Don’t let anyone lead you astray,” he says. Those who are followers of Jesus, or “born of God,” abide in the love of Christ and walk in the light. However, as we’ve stated already, we’re all human, and we screw up, right? It’s all well and good for John to present things so simply, that if you’re a follower of Jesus, you don’t sin, and if you do sin, you’re not a follower of Jesus. However, even earlier as we saw, John says “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). So which is it? It seems like John is contradicting himself, doesn’t it?
Verse 10 may be the line that cleans all this up for us. The first part of verse 10 closes what John has been talking about so far in 3:1-9. He’s describing the difference between children of God and children of the devil. He is condemning the deceivers, false teachers, and antichrists and claiming they are the ones who are sinning and are thus, children of the devil. They are the ones infecting the community with lies and causing division and disunity. What we will see as the hinge of the entire letter next week (the love commandments) are not present in these folks, in fact, they are the opposite. They are claiming they are perfect, without sin, and that their teaching is flawless, and in John’s eyes, the “truth is not in them” by these sorts of claims. Their actions speak for themselves. This means the second part of verse 10 introduces a new topic. We now know how to identify those who are not of God, but we will learn next how to identify those who are.
Let’s be clear, Jesus saves and cleanses us from sin. It isn’t merely that we follow Jesus and stop sinning. Life isn’t that simple, and I think John knows this. The freedom that Christ offers is one that has to be continually fought for by loving one another and remaining unified despite disagreements, and this includes expelling those who insist on trying to divide and set us against one another. This verse is not saying that in order to follow Jesus we need to be perfect. Far from. Instead, it is saying that we need to focus on the obvious and, in John’s view, more pressing sins that seek to divide the community and set people against one another when we’re supposed to be loving and respecting one another. That is far more of a sin, to John, that anything else, and if we take sin seriously, it is these sort of sin that needs to be continually confronted in our day and age, too, because there are plenty out there that are seeking for us to divide, argue, and bicker with one another. We can’t afford to give them the satisfaction of being right.