1 John 3:4-7 | The Nature of Sin

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image by bitzcelt

I love the depth and shock-value of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear these words for the first time?

  • You’ve heard don’t murder—I say if you’re angry with someone you’ve already committed it.
  • You’ve heard don’t commit adultery—I say if you’ve lusted after someone, you’ve already committed it.
  • You’ve heard you can get a divorce for any reason—I say nothing but unchastity can break the marriage union.
  • You’ve heard: don’t swear falsely—I say don’t make any oaths at all.
  • You’ve heard love your neighbour and hate your enemy—I say be perfect.

Ouch. I wonder how many people in the crowd quit following Jesus that day?

Today’s section of John takes a serious look at sin-as-lawlessness. It may not be easy medicine to take, but it’s necessary.

1 John 3:4-10 consists of two sections which follow the same format.  We’ll look at the first section today—the nature of sin.  Next week we’ll look at the origin of sin in vv. 8-10. Both of these sections have four parts to them, as we’ll see below.

. . .

Introductory Phrase: everyone who commits sin.

There’s some comfort here for me.  The phrase “everyone who commits sin” reminds me that everyone does commit sin.  We sinners find ourselves in good company: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and on throughout the centuries. In fact, the only person who didn’t commit sin is Jesus—our role model.

That passage from earlier in John’s letter comes to mind:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us. (1:8-9 NRSV)

. . .

Theme: sin is lawlessness.

There are a number of words in Scripture that describe sin. One of the most popular words in the New Testament means, “missing the mark”.  Another word for sin is translated “unrighteousness”.  Here, John uses a relatively rare term for sin: lawlessness.

What an apt description. Sin is rebelling against the authority of our Lord. Lawlessness.

It’s important to note that John is not using this in a legalistic sense: he’s not saying that we need to keep the letter of the law that God revealed on Sinai. Jesus redefined that—as passages like the Sermon on the Mount make very clear. John understands the depth of what Jesus did for us—the freedom he provided. Sin, in John’s mind, is rebelling against the plan Jesus has for us.

Of course, this makes it difficult to come up with an itemized list of sins we should avoid, since God speaks to each one of us through his Spirit. The love of God will drive us to know his will through a continual and deepening relationship with his Spirit.

. . .

Purpose of Christ’s Appearing: to take away sins.

This John wasn’t the first to realize Jesus’ purpose. Hear the words of John the Baptist:

Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NRSV)

This post was published the week before Christmas. It’s a time when we celebrate Jesus’ first appearing—precisely what John is referring to here. He revealed himself to us in order to take away the sins of the world while remaining perfectly pure and sinless himself. While there are many passages of Scripture that refer to this truth, a section of 1 Peter gets to the heart of this paradox:

  1. Jesus took our sins: “You know that you were ransomed . . .” (2:18 NRSV)
  2. Jesus is without sin: “like that of a lamb without blemish” (2:19 NRSV)

Why did John remind his people of this?  Read on . . .

. . .

Logical Conclusion: no one who abides in him sins.

John felt so strongly about this conclusion, he stated it in two ways: positively and negatively:

  1. Negatively: “No one who abides in him sins” (v. 6 NRSV)
  2. Positively: “Everyone who does what is right is righteous” (v. 7 NRSV)

Like Jesus’ listeners when he taught the Sermon on the Mount, it’s easy to look at this and doubt your salvation or even your ability to follow Jesus at all. John felt so passionately about the need to avoid sin, he stated it as starkly as possible. However, there are two clues that make this easier to grasp.

  1. The tense of the words “sins” and “remains” in v. 6 are present, which implies that these are ongoing acts.  It would be better to say that no one who abides in Jesus continues to persist in sinning.
  2. The word “abide” also gives us a clue. John’s not speaking here about a one-time salvation experience. The word abide speaks of an ongoing relationship.

. . .

The point of this paragraph is plain and simple. While teaching about the details of the passage may help us understand the specifics of it all, it’s impossible to miss the main point:

Jesus died for all of us, to take away our sins—if we persist in rebelling against his will, we’re proving that we don’t abide in him. If we do what’s right, though, we become just like him.

< 1 John 3:1-3 | God’s Children

1 John 3:8-10: The Origin of Sin >

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