Bold Belief in Tough Times - Part 3
How does being a child of God transform our understanding of who we are and how we live? How do righteousness and sin fit into the picture? Join Dr. Marty Baker as we take a look at 1 John 3:4-9 and discover what Christ has done to set us free from sin.
In 605 B.C., after years of sinful political and moral missteps by Judah’s self-willed, power-hungry rulers, King Jehoakim II illogically rebelled against his Babylonian overlords by failing to pay tribute monies for their “protection.” Under Nebuchadnezzar’s military leadership, the Babylonians quickly moved in, subdued Jerusalem, and hauled the most promising young men of the nation back to wicked, godless Babylon. From Daniel 1:1-3 we learn that Daniel, a teenager at the time, became one of those captives.
To read his detailed, jaw-dropping prophetic book, which is also chock-full of never-to-be-forgotten stories of God’s provision for His devout followers in tough times, is to learn the importance of living an exemplary life when surrounded by entrenched wickedness. When told to eat the king’s idol-tainted food, Daniel refused (along with his three Jewish friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), choosing rather to eat vegetables. In a ten-day test, Daniel and his friends looked physically better than anyone else (Dan. 1). When God gave him the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image, Daniel minced no words and not only told the king that his kingdom would eventually be destroyed, but that the true living God of Israel would do it (Dan. 2). When King Belshazzar threw a drunken party for his military and political leaders, and a divine hand suddenly appeared and wrote cryptic words on a wall, they hauled Daniel in for an interpretation. Again, Daniel boldly told the truth: God was going to quickly destroy the mighty Babylonian empire and give it to their enemies the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5). “Invincible” Babylon fell that evening to the crafty and cunning forces of the Medes and Persians, just as Daniel said.
I could go on, but I’m sure you grasp the point of all of this. Dark days call for brave Christian leaders of light and truth, regardless of the potential danger and cost. Daniel was such a man. He loved God intimately and deeply, so he lived his life according to God’s standards of holiness and he spoke truth where God sovereignly placed him.
Six hundred years later, John, the disciple of Jesus Christ, took up the mantel of Daniel as a pastor over the churches in Asia Minor. The godless culture constantly pressured the churches to compromise doctrine in order to function effectively (viz., worship to the gods of our trade guilds so you can keep your job), and false teachers steeped in Gnosticism infiltrated the churches and caused much angst and confusion about the person and work of Jesus, coupled with misguided thoughts about what constitutes a godly life. For them, a little immorality mixed with morality was no big deal, but to be expected since the superior inner life trumps the inferior outer, fleshly life. Enter God’s new version of Daniel in the person of John. At a time of great societal evil and doctrinal deviation in churches, he maintained a consistent, holy walk with God, while also being fearless in his presentation of truth. Believe me, we need more believers like Daniel and John. Will it be you? Is it you?
In a quest to move believers at all times toward this divinely approved model, John turns in chapter 2, verse 28 through chapter 4, verse 19, to methodically sift through the answers to an unstated, but quite apparent, hermeneutical question:
What Does Bold Belief Look Like In Trying Times? (1 John 2:28-4:19)
So far, we have covered four practical and challenging concepts:
- Bold Belief Strives For Consistent Obedience (1 John 2:28)
- Bold Belief Lives In Light Of Who Jesus’s Character (1 John 2:29)
- Bold Belief Lives In Light of Who You Are (1 John 3:1)
- Bold Belief Lives In Light Of Who You Will Be (1 John 3:2-3)
How are you faring in implementing these truths into your daily walk before the watching world? Remember, the ultimate motivation for weaving them into your life is the fact we will all one day give account to Christ for how well we adhered to them.
With verses 4 through 9, we encounter more challenging words from John.
Bold Belief Understands Sin’s Nature (1 John 3:4)
A mature believer like Daniel or John, or even you for that matter, knows why you should live a godly, holy life. John discloses the reason in the verse before us:
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
Please, don’t forget the context. John has just finished speaking to believers about the importance of purity in their lives, especially when the world is in love with impurity. The word “all” of verse 3 is translated “everyone” in the NASB and “all” in the NIV. It speaks of believers. The same Greek word is used in verse 4 (Πᾶς), hence, believersare still in view. John’s point to believers is clear. When you wilfully choose not to abide intimately with Christ by adhering to His teachings, you, by definition, practice lawlessness, which is the essence of sin.
“Lawlessness” is a Greek word formed by taking the first letter of the alphabet, a (alpha), and wedding it to the word for law, nomos. When you do this you negate the main word in question. What a perfect description of sin. It is always a direct affront to the law of God, to the way God says we should act, live, and think. Satan’s tempting question to Eve is a case in point: “Has God said , You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1). God told Adam and Eve they could freely eat from all of the trees except for one: the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9, 17). The Devil cleverly recouched God’s command in a way he could cause Eve to think God was too restrictive and unfair. When she ate she wilfully traversed the boundary God had set in place to protect mankind, and immediately her action became lawless for she had shaken her fist in God’s holy face.
The word for sin John employs is harmartia (ἁμαρτίαν). As I’ve told you before, it denotes a purposeful missing of a target in a military setting. Morally and spiritually it denotes a wilfull departure of anyone, Christian or non-Christian, from what God has revealed as proper moral and spiritual behavior. When God says it is sinful to covet what your neighbor has, and you do it anyway, you have sinned, or missed the mark of what God requires. A vacant lot behind my first California home had a few weeds here and there and nothing more. One day, the owner of the land placed a sign on a 4 x 4 wooden post. It read: NO DUMPING. Within a couple of days, someone drove their truck full of trash up to the sign and dumped it all right there. That, my friend, is a perfect illustration of lawlessness, and this is nothing short of sinful behavior.
What has this got to do with you as a Christian? If you want to be confident and unashamed with you stand before Christ, if you want to make a maximum impact on those around you who are embracing lawless living more than ever, then it behooves you to stop and ask yourself: What is lawless about my life? What divine or human laws do I flaunt or simply ignore?
- Do I speak truth, or lies?
- Do I love others, or hate a certain group or type of person?
- Do I care for my neighbor, or manufacture reasons why he/she is not my problem?
- Do I turn the other cheek when wronged, or am I biding my time to get sweet revenge?
- Do I love my husband or wife regardless, or am I having an emotional affair with someone?
- Am I as a single living a sexually pure life, or am I engaging in activity meant for married people?
I’ll stop there because I’m sure you get the point: daily pursue lawful living.
Just as the Revisionists, i.e, the Gnostics, convinced some believers a little sin in their lives was no big deal because God created light and darkness, you must ask yourself: Is anyone causing me to change my view of sin, to belittle, think lightly of, or rationalize it? If so, you must move away from them, and get your life in line, again, with God’s way and Word. When you live a lawful life in lawless times you will not only be found acceptable by the Lord, you will have a great impact like a Daniel or a John on countless lives around you.
Bold Belief Understands Sin’s Solution (1 John 3:5)
Talking about sin as lawlessness moves John to remind us just what God did to help sinners become saints:
5 And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
Jesus left the glory of heaven to carry out a divine redemptive plan only He could fulfill. Sin against an absolutely holy God demanded an absolutely perfect sacrifice for that sin. No man would ever qualify for this role. Only Jesus, the God-man, could do this. The first man, Adam, failed, but the second Adam, Jesus, lived an absolutely holy life so He could be THE sacrifice to end all sacrifices for sin (Rom. 5:12-21).
Yes, His sinless nature classified Him to be the only one capable of paying the penalty for man’s sin, and to be positioned to take away man’s sin when that man comes to Him in confessional faith. Was He sinless? Indeed.
- The Devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness after forty days without food and water met only with His obedience to the Father (Matt. 4).
- When the Jews opposed him, Jesus stated, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). Nobody answered him because they couldn’t.
- Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus claimed He was “the light of the world” (John 8:12), underscoring He was the essence of all moral and spiritual light.That was quite a claim, and no one disputed it because they couldn’t.
- Concerning His relationship with the Father, He also said in this chapter, “I always do what is pleasing to him.” Always? Yes, always. No man ever born could say this, but He could because He was the God-man.
- Regarding Jesus, Paul quipped, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:2).
The purpose of Christ’s sinless life is summed up in Hebrew 2:
7 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Heb. 2).
Jesus had to become a man to save mankind. He had to be a man so He could be temtped and then do what no man could ever do: overcome temptation perfectly every time. Then and only then was He positioned to “make propitiation for the sins of the people,” which is just a fancy way of saying His perfect and sacrificial life assuaged the anger of God against our sin. At the point of faith, therefore, He is lovingly ready and willing to “take away” your sin. Amazing, isn’t it? As the old hymn states, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, it saved a wretch like me.”
The applicational point of this verse for Christians is clear: Since Jesus did the unthinkable hard thing out of love for you, how can you not love Him back with your obedience? Ah, this is what the wicked world needs to see. It needs to see the love of Jesus about you through your demeanor, how you act and react in various situations, how you treat those who are with or against you, how you make complex life decisions, how you respond to those who vehemently disagree with you, and so on.
The applicational point for non-Christians is equally clear: Jesus is the only one who is qualified to take away your sinful status before the Godhead. Your good works won’t do it. How many times you pray a memorized prayer won’t do it. Whether you had Christian parents won’t do it. No, the only One who can forgive your sin and make you His child forever is Jesus, and to receive His forgiveness you must ask Him. As Paul told people in Rome years ago:
9 . . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; 13 for "Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10).
What are you waiting on is the question? Today is the day to be saved, not tomorrow, for you might not have a tomorrow.
Moving from the power of a life lived well in view of the cross, John next offers this insight about bold living:
Bold Belief Understands The Power Of Intimacy (1 John 3:6, 9)
First, let me read these two verses which really go together, and then I will offer some hopefully salient points.
6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
These verses are highly complex theologically speaking. Why is this so? These verses appear to present us with a definite contradiction. On the one hand, John’s statement in verse 9 of chapter 1 clearly tells believers they do sin.
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1).
So, it is true: Christians sin. Chapter two drives this point home as well:
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; (1 John. 2).
If you, as a Christian sin, which you will at times, you always have a defense attorney before the Father’s throne. His name is Jesus Christ. Again, John drives home the fact that believers will sin. He continues this line of reasoning in verse 11:
11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2).
The present tense nature of the present participle “hates” (Ὁ δὲ μισῶν ) demonstrates an ongoing, habitual activity by one Christian brother against another. Chapter 3, verse 7 also speaks about ongoing, habitual sin in the life of a saint:
7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;
7 Τεκνία, μηδεὶς πλανάτω ὑμᾶς· ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην δίκαιός ἐστιν, καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν·
The present tense command here coupled with the negative grammatically seeks to stop/forbid an action in progress.Put differently, it is not attempting to stop/forbid a point in time sin, but something which was continuing to occur. Obviously, some saints had been swayed and duped by the articulate, well-defended teaching of the Gnostics among them. As such, they were guilty of sinning against the truth they once held to.
With all of this contextual information in mind, we are positioned to peer more precisely into these two enigmatic, problematic verses of John chapter 3. Is he saying Christians don’t ever sin? No, because he knows they do. Is he saying they won’t habitually sin? No. What does that mean anyway? How much sin would qualify as habitual sin? One, thirty, five thousand times?
Here is what I think John is getting at.
In verse 6 he continues to talk about the value of abiding in Christ by being obedient to Him.
6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
The one who lives a confessional life has a tight relationship with Jesus. When he lives like this, Jesus forgives of the sin we confess, so we can maintain that intimacy, and He also moves to handle other practical sins we have probably overlooked. 1 John 1:9 states this timeless truth:
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus forgives you of the sins you confess AND He cleanses you from “all unrighteous,” which is the sin you aren’t privy to yet. This move on His part allows you to function as if you are sinless, so to speak.
The saint, however, who doesn’t abide in Jesus through confessional living, “has [not] seen Him or known Him.” Remember, John is not talking about non-Christians here, but Christians. What he says here, however, is applicable to both groups: sin negatively impacts our thinking about and relation to the living God. If you are a Christian, it keeps you from knowing Him as you should. Note, John does not say this person has never seen or known God, leaving open the position they certainly could have had that intimacy once and lost it because of sin. Further, if you are a non-Christian, sin keeps you from knowing Him at all. Satan does a pretty good job at blinding your spiritual eyes, too (2 Cor. 4:4-5). What the saint, therefore, needs to remember each day is the importance of walking closely with Jesus by loving and obeying Him. The more he/she does this, the more profound his/her impact is on the wicked world around them. What the sinner needs is obvious. They need a point in time faith relationship with Jesus (John 5:24-25). He’s waiting for you to make that faith statement so you can see and know Him.
Verse 9 is merely an expansion on what John has just taught in verse 6.
9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
The NIV is misleading here, as is the NAS we just read:
9 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 (1 John 3).
Both translations translate the present tense verb as if it is denoting ongoing activity. That is not how the Greek reads. It simply says, “All those born out of God do not sin.” The reference is to their spiritual standing as saints (1 Cor. 1:30). Put differently, your saved spiritual man has the holiness of Christ, and in this sense, you are a person who doesn’t do sin.
Practically, however, from what we read in the NT; your inner spiritual man struggles with your outer fleshly man. Paul’s honest words are most instructive:
13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law (Gal. 5).
Everything about this passage written to believers shows we all struggle, daily, between the pull of the sinful flesh and the empowerment of the Spirit of God for holy living. What Christian among us cannot relate? What Christians among can say I don’t have any habitual sins? We all understand Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 where the thing he wants to do (viz., please God) he typically does not because of his wrestling match with his sinful self.
Yet, I think John’s emphasis is upon the inner man, the positional spiritual man. He is impervious to sin, but not the man in a body of flesh. He struggles to live in light of His position. Did you get that? I think this is John’s point. What does any culture need in dark days? It needs Christians whose practical walks matches their positional standing. When they see this, they will be convicted of their sin and possibly moved toward a saving relationship with Christ. Also, when Christians live this way, they have a sweet relationship with Jesus that nothing in this old world can tarnish or taint.
So, here’s the challenge: God may my practical walk match my spiritual position. As Daniel did this, he changed hearts and minds. As John did this, churches were healed and flourished and a sinful society was impacted with the transformative nature of the gospel of Jesus. As you do it, the same things will occur. May God be praised with the results.
 H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: The MacMillan Company, 1955), 301:2.