We're turning again to 1 John, 1 John chapter 3, and if you haven't been with us before, or perhaps you've been with us infrequently, we have been following this study from chapter 1 and this is now our ninth week - if memory serves me correctly - and we are in chapter 3 and verse 4. In our last study just before the Christmas break we dealt with the first three verses of chapter 3, these famous verses, and we'll read them again just to remind ourselves where we left off - but we're reading through to verse 10 this evening and our study will comprise of verses 4 through to 10, under the title 'The Saint And The Sinful Existence'.
Verse 1 of 1 John 3: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God".
Now the first thing we want to do this evening is to look at verse 6, verse 8 and verse 9 - for this particular passage of Scripture has been a bit of a quandary to many theologians and Bible teachers for this one reason: it seems to categorically say, in a casual reading of the text, that the Christian should not sin. Of course, human beings in general and Christians in particular are aware, acutely, of their own inherent sinfulness both in their nature and in their practice. They know that they are sinners, and they know that they do sin. So we have to determine first of all this evening, before we can go on any further and make sense of what the apostle is saying to us in the crucial verses of this chapter, what he means when he says that Christians should not sin. What does he mean by sin? He says in verse 6: 'Whosoever abideth in him', in Christ, 'sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen God or Christ, and has not known Him'. Verse 8: 'He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil'. Verse 9: 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin'.
The Son of Thunder seems again to be black and white in his condemnation of sin of any kind in the life of the Christian. The thought should come to your mind, especially if you've been with us from chapter 1, that there seems to be an apparent contradiction in what John is saying here in chapter 3 and what he has already said in verses 8 and 10 of chapter 1, if you turn back to it. There he is equally dogmatic, but in a different sense, he says in verse 8: 'If we have no sin', speaking of the sinful nature, 'we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us'. Then in verse 10: 'If we say that we have not sinned', speaking practically of the sins that we commit, 'we make God a liar, and his word is not in us'. Some theologians have concluded that John is plainly contradicting himself. On the one hand he says Christians should not sin, and if a person calls themselves by the name of Christ and sins, they're a liar. Yet in chapter 1 he calls those a liar, and the truth does not reside in those who deny they have a sinful nature and who deny they commit actual sins.
One thing we have to determine first of all, of course, is that the word of God does not contradict itself. If there's a complication like this, there's always an answer - indeed the Lord Jesus Christ said that the scripture cannot be broken in John 10:35, so there has to be an answer. Whilst we don't look just for any answer, we know that there is a true answer. Now some people erroneously find the answer in what has been known as the 'doctrine of perfectionism'. That is, they believe that you can, as a Christian, get to a stage of existence where you no longer sin, and the root of sin has been extracted from your spirit. Now John Wesley was a great man of God, and I would always hesitate to say anything detrimental about a man who did so much for the Lord Jesus Christ and won so many souls for Him. Yet throughout John Wesley's life he was convinced of what he called, I quote: 'The absolute impossibility of being a half-Christian'. I happen to agree with him, and I hope that you do too - we ought to be out and out for Christ when we take His name to ourselves. But whilst we agree with that, John Wesley in his life, unreasonably I believe, came to the conclusion and took an unbiblical leap to conclude that because a Christian is to strive for perfection, because the Lord Jesus has said, and God in the Old Testament has commanded 'Be ye perfect, as I, the Lord your God, am perfect', he erroneously concluded that we are capable of being so; that we can, in this lifetime, reach that standard of absolute and complete perfection before God.
We would all agree that that is the standard that we are to strive at, we are to try and be like the Lord Jesus by the help of His Spirit. But who of us, for one moment, in this congregation or anywhere, I would imagine, would ever claim to be perfect? We can never claim to have arrived or achieved, even the apostle Paul could say: 'Not as though I have already attained'. Indeed, I believe, to say that you're without natural sin or practical sin is to transgress what we have read in chapter 1 and verses 8 and 10 - we are calling God a liar, the truth does not reside in our hearts. But here we find the distinct lack of clarity that is in this Wesleyan doctrine, this doctrine of perfectionism: John Wesley didn't claim it for himself - that's very interesting. Yet he declared, and I quote him again: 'I do not contend for the term 'sinless', though I do not object against it'. This is the confusion that perfectionism brings. On the one hand he says: 'I don't claim it for myself, and I wouldn't contend for this word 'sinless', attributing it to a human being, though I do not object against it'. He didn't think he had it, he probably didn't claim to know any Christians that did, yet he didn't want to rule out the possibility that a human being, by the grace of God, could obtain perfection in this realm.
Charles Finney, the revivalist of the late 19th century, also taught perfectionism. Again he did many exploits for the Lord, whilst his doctrine at times was rather dodgy, he also taught, I quote: 'It is self-evident that the entire obedience to God's law is possible on the ground of natural ability' - with our own flesh we could naturally obey God's laws. But Finney also backed off, like Wesley, from pressing this doctrine too far by explaining that, I quote him again: 'To overcome sin is the rule of everyone who is born of God, and sin is only the exception. The regenerative habitually live without sin, and fall into sin only at intervals so few and far between that in strong language it may be said of a truth that they 'do not sin''. So on the one hand he's saying that it is possible to perfectly and completely in our natural man obey the commands of God, yet on the other he is cautious to press this too far, and actually defines what is to say that a Christian does not sin in this way, that 'it's just not habitual sin, it's sin as the exception rather than the rule, few and far between'.
Here's where I believe that the language of this doctrine of sinless perfectionism has been a curse on the church and on Christianity as a whole, because on the one hand it propounds the distinct possibility of being perfect, yet when its proponents are pressed they admit that it has eluded them, and to not sin in the biblical sense ultimately means to only sin at intervals, to sin as exceptions rather than rules. So even they define this 'not sinning' in 1 John and in the Bible as not sinning in a lifestyle of sinful existence. So this is actually what John means, and when we look at this word 'commits sin' that we find in verse 8: 'He that committeth sin is of the devil', we find that this Greek word for 'commit' literally means 'does sin' - 'Him that does sin', and it is in the present continuous tense. That means it is someone who is doing sin now, and continues to sin. It is speaking of a continual behaviour. It actually means a sinful lifestyle, so whenever you find this in 1 John, where it talks about committing sin, it is speaking of a sinful existence, a habitual practice of sin. One translation puts it: 'No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning, no one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him'.
Now what John is doing for us in this new portion of Scripture is, he is arguing that this is another proof that one is not a child of God. This is a great epistle concerning assurance, didn't we find that out week after week? It concerns also how we can know we have assurance and are in fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ. Here he gives us another rule of thumb whereby we can know whether we're a child of God. If we are not habitually living in a lifestyle of sin, a sinful existence, we can know that we are the children of God. One commentator put it well like this, Alfred Plummer is his name, I quote him: 'Although the believer sometimes sins, yet not sin but opposition to sin is the ruling principle of his life. For whenever he sins he confesses it, he wins forgiveness and perseveres with his self-purification; but the habitual sinner does none of these things, sin is his ruling principle and this could not be the case if he had ever really known Christ'. Plummer is correct: the Christian will sin, but the Christian's existence should be in opposition to sin. Sin should not be the ruling principle of his life, and when he sins, as chapter 1 outlines, he should confess his sins and know forgiveness, win it and persevere with self-purification. But if you're not a child of God you will be, by a habitual lifestyle, a sinner - sin will be the ruling principle of your life, and if it is: you can be sure that you have never really known Jesus Christ in His saving or sanctifying way.
Now we did ask the question why John is writing in this fashion, and again we are brought to the backdrop of the theological arguments that were going on in this little church in Ephesus and further afield. These false teachers were coming in, and they were teaching a dualist doctrine - if you don't know what that is, it's simply 'dualism' which taught that the flesh, the material world, is essentially evil, and the spiritual world is righteous and good. So from that they concluded that, because the material is evil, and this body ultimately is going to be burnt up in the end (that's what they taught), it doesn't matter what you do in the flesh because the flesh will perish and it will only be the spirit that lives on. As long as you're all right in your spirit, you can do whatever you like in the flesh. Another name for this was 'antinomianism', 'anti-law', and it was a reaction against the Judaisers. The Judaisers were coming into the church and teaching that you have to keep the law of Moses, you have to keep the ceremonial and the ritual law, you have to keep rules and regulations - and so a group of people swung in a pendulum over to the other extreme and said: 'No, we're not going to keep any rules, we're not going to keep the rules of the word of God or even the New Testament rules and principles of Christ. All that matters is the spiritual realm, we can indulge the flesh'.
You can see right away what was going on. There were some running around taking the name of Christ and living a debauched, depraved existence in the flesh. We find the fruit of the flesh and the lusts and works of the flesh in Galatians chapter 5, and all of these things were being manifest in the personalities of these people who were taking the name of the Lord Jesus. So what John does is he builds a biblical case to reason with the believers that are left in this little church, that what is done in the flesh matters greatly - in fact it is a matter of spiritual life and spiritual death. Let us be absolutely clear tonight: our works, the things that we do which are bad or good in the flesh do not determine and cannot decide whether or not we will be saved. I would have to say, just as a little rider to that, that there are a lot of people who use these verses, they say, as proof to argue the doctrine that once you're saved you can again lose your salvation by sinning in some particular way. That's not what John is teaching, that our works, our good or bad, will determine positively or negatively whether or not we will be saved, but rather he is telling us that as Christians our works display and demonstrate whether or not we have been saved. That's so important to make that distinction, but understand it: our works cannot save us, but our works are to be the determining factor to show whether or not we have been saved.
What John does for us in these verses, as we're going to see now, is that first of all he gives us a negative that tells us why living a sinful lifestyle is proof that we do not know God. Then secondly, by inference, positively, he gives us the secret to victory over sin, how we can know overcoming the sinfulness in our flesh and in the world round about us.
So the flow of his argument is: to live a sinful life is, first of all, verse 4, to live lawlessness. To live a sinful life is lawlessness. Look at verse 4: 'Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law'. Now the Authorised Version, when it says 'sin is the transgression of the law' would be better translated, as some translate it 'sin is lawlessness' - that is the sense, sin is lawlessness. John says that to live a sinful lifestyle is lawlessness. Of course, he's taking us back to Exodus chapter 20 when God's law, the ten commandments were given, and God was showing to man the standard that He required of him. But don't fall into making the mistake that many do in our world today, even religious people, thinking that God gave the ten commandments as some kind of ladder of rules up which we climb to heaven by our own ethics and moral standards. Rather, Paul makes clear for us in Galatians, that the law of God was a schoolteacher to bring us to Christ. God's law was to instruct us, but only Christ could save us; and so the law instructs us that we need a Saviour, and points us to Christ. Now, if the law could save us in and of itself, keeping the Do's and Don'ts of the Old Testament, why would it need to point us to Christ? It has to point us to Christ, because Christ is the only answer - but the law was given to show us our inherent sinfulness, to show us that we couldn't keep it, to show us how far short we fall from the glory of God, and to make us feel our need for a Saviour. It's like a magnifying glass that shows us more clearly and largely our own sin.
Now, what happens when we're converted - or what's meant to happen? We come to Christ, and we repent of our sin, and the Bible says that God gives us a new nature to live righteously. What we could not do under law, when it says 'do not steal, do not kill, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not covet', so on and so forth - those things that we could not do in the flesh, as Romans says, now by the law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus we have been made free, and we are now able to live out the fruit of the Spirit and effectively fulfil God's law by His power. So that we can say 'we do not commit adultery now, we do not steal, we do not kill, we do not covet', and it's not us in our own flesh doing it, is the very life of God in us to live a righteous life. Now what John is saying is this: that is the mark of the child of God, that they are actually living out the law of God. In verse 3 of our chapter 3 he says that every child of God purifies himself, even as Christ is pure. The true child of God, as he anticipates the second coming of our Lord Jesus, will be purifying himself as he gazes on the prospect of Christ.
So John's asking us, in effect, the question: what are we to think of a person that professes faith in the Lord Jesus, but lives a life of lawlessness? What's our conclusion to be? Lawlessness is rebellion against one who should be obeyed, and if we are rebelling against God in our actions and in our existence, we're wanting our own way, what are we to conclude about our state before God? Are we a child of God or are we not? Clearly, John is saying, we cannot be children of God if we live lifestyles of lawlessness. Sin is not just an outward act, it is also an inward attitude. You could have everything right in a legalistic fashion on the external and in religious ritual and rule, but in your heart it could be a rebelliousness that is shaking its fist, a wilful shaking of your fist in the face of Almighty God.
I heard the story today about a little boy whose mother put him in the closet for being bad - I wouldn't advise you doing that. But she didn't hear him for a while and wondered what was going on, she opened the door and said: 'What are you doing?'. He said: 'Well, I've spat on your coat, and I've spat on your dresses, and I've spat on your shoes, and now I'm waiting for more spit'. Rebelliousness! He wasn't sorry! It's like the little girl who was in the car, and Mummy shouted again and again and again for her to sit down in the seat and put her seatbelt on. Eventually she did it, and then a few miles down the road she says: 'Mummy, I might be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside'. That's what sinners are like, that's what we once were but it's not what we should be now. We need to ask questions of our own state regarding salvation if we have a rebelliousness in our heart, constantly, that wants to live lawlessly in the face of God.
The sign of a Christian, John is saying first of all, is that they will have a surrendered will to God's will. What is God's will? Well, we've already learnt this in chapter 2 verses 3 and 4: 'Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him'. We are to be obedient in love to the Lord Jesus, His principles and His precepts, as He in His completeness has fulfilled the law of God. What did He say? 'If ye love me, keep my commandments'. So I'm asking you tonight: do you have a desire, is the ruling principle of your life trying to get at breakneck speed to lawlessness before God? Or is there a desire, even though you fail and fall at times, like all of us do, is your desire to be obedient? Or is your desire to continually rebel? My friend, if it is to rebel, John says it's doubtful if you're one of God's children.
Then secondly, to live a sinful lifestyle is, John says in verse 5, a denial of Christ. 'Ye know', verse 5, 'that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin'. Basically what John is saying is: how can you call yourself Christ's-one, a Christian, and then continue in a lifestyle of habitual sin? John is saying that it's a complete denial of the purpose of the incarnation, why God's Son took upon Himself human flesh. Incidentally, the Dualists denied that, they believed that Christ was some kind of phantom or ghost, because the material, the flesh, is evil - so how could God's Son take evil? They denied the incarnation, they denied that Christ actually died and physically rose again, but John is now coming to the true believers and saying: 'How can you call yourself a Christian, and then live in the denial of why Christ came in the flesh, why He died, why He rose again?'. Indeed, to continue in sin would be a denial of the name that we bear, for in Him, Christ, is no sin. How could we call ourselves Christ's ones, in whom is no sin, and take upon ourselves the complete existence of a sinful habitual lifestyle.
There are three New Testament passages that deal with the sinlessness of our Lord Jesus. Peter, that great man of action, said: 'Christ did no sin'. Paul, that man of great thought in the mysteries of God's word, says: 'Christ knew no sin'. John, who was the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who had an intimate fellowship and communion with the Lord, says: 'In Him was no sin'. He was without spot and blemish, as the Levitical offering in the Old Testament being offered to God. He had to be, to bear the sins of the universe. But John's point is this: how could anyone take His name, and claim to bear His likeness, and then relish a life of sinfulness? It is impossible! It is a denial of Christ's character!
Then not only is it a denial of Christ's character, but he tells us it is a denial of Christ's cross. This is why Christ came into the world, John is saying in verse 5, to take away our sins. Doesn't the Scripture say that He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world? The first time John the Baptist lays eyes on Him in the ministry of Christ, what does he say? John 1:29: 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away' - takes away - 'the sin of the world'. Now that phrase 'takes away' is interesting, it literally means 'to lift up and to haul off'. 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who will lift up the sin of the world and haul it off!'. Now, I think it's on a Friday we get our bins collected, and you know what happens when the bin lorry comes round your way - I shouldn't call it 'bin lorry' or 'bin men', the 'waste disposal technicians' I think is the correct terminology. They gather the rubbish up, and then they throw it into the lorry, and they haul it off for you and you never need to see it again. It's wonderful, throw all your rubbish in your own domestic bin, put it out in the wheelie bin, and before you know it, a week later it's all gone. That is the sense here, Christ is lifting up our sin, He's hauling it off. When the Lord Jesus died on the cross and shed His precious blood, He took away all the rubbish, all the trash and the garbage of our lives, and He has hauled it off forever. Here's the wonderful thing: when God hauls it off, we don't need to look at it again! 'There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus', but better than that: when God hauls it off, the devil can't haul it back.
The Psalmist has said: 'As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us'. How far is that? It is an immeasurable distance, East from West, it keeps going, one away from the other. Not only do you never see your sin again, and the devil can't haul it up in your face again, but perhaps greater than those two things: even if you go looking for it, you'll never find the dump where God has put it. It's gone forever, for Christ took it, died, buried it, and three days later rose again without it - it's gone! The chorus says:
'Rolled away, rolled away,
And the burden of my heart rolled away'
Now here is John's point: there is something wrong if a so-called Christian is a bin-hoker, if they're looking for their sin again. My friend, is that you? I know people can backslide, I know the prodigal son, Luke chapter 15, and I know where he found himself after he spent all his inheritance in riotous living. He finds himself among the pigs, eating the swill - but remember this please: he couldn't be satisfied eating it, and he came to himself, and he got up and he went to his father. There's something wrong if you can live a lifestyle which is a complete denial not only of the character but of the cross of Christ, and it doesn't figure on you at all! The prodigal didn't stay with the pigs!
Now the positive in this point of John's for us is that if we are defeated, if we are constantly falling into sin - well, first of all, we need to question whether we're truly saved - but whatever the condition is that we find ourselves in, there is an answer. It's inherent in this verse 5, the answer is found in the victory of the cross of Jesus. This is why Christ has been manifested: to take away our sins, for in Him was no sin. The message is this: there is deliverance! My friend, whatever your particular sin is, even if it is an habitual lifestyle of sin and you're not even converted tonight, the wonderful message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus, is that you can be. The power of God's Son at the cross is the dynamite of God that is able to deliver all men.
But whilst there is deliverance, we have to be warned that a sinful lifestyle can never ever be an alternative lifestyle to the child of God. We hear an awful lot about alternative lifestyles today, don't we? Some are even saying that you can be a practising homosexual or a celibate homosexual, and be a Christian. Some are propounding that you can be committing adultery and be a Christian, you can practise idolatry and be a Christian, you can engage in constant drunkenness and be a Christian. Let me tell you what God's word says in another portion, 1 Corinthians chapter 6, listen to it carefully, verse 9: 'Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God'. God's word is clear: you can do those things, but if you're going to become a Christian you've to repent of them. Now I'm not saying that you'll not fall into some of those sins, God forbid that you should, but all of us fall into sin at some time in our Christian life, if not an awful lot - but this is the point: these lifestyles of sin must change and cease to be your lifestyles, cease to be the ruling, dominating factor of your existence. Here he points it out in verse 11: 'And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God'. Some of them were going back to their old sins, but Paul was saying: 'If you're truly converted, your life will not be a denial of Christ, of His character and of His cross'.
Well, my friend, the question is posed to you: have you been delivered from these things? I know you might have had a hiccup or two, but if you, from the moment of your profession, have constantly lived exactly the way you lived before, you cannot be saved. That's what John says. Then thirdly, he tells us: to live a sinful lifestyle, verse 6, betrays an absence of abiding. Verse 6: 'Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him'. You've never seen Him or known Him, in other words you've never been born again if you have a sinful lifestyle existence - for those who are born again, they abide in Christ. What does 'abiding in Christ' mean? Well, the Lord Jesus said: 'If you abide in me, and my words abide in you' - it's talking about God's word having a resting place in you, and you having a resting place in Christ. Essentially, what it is in a practical level is communion with the Lord Jesus, fellowshipping with Him, getting to know Him, becoming one with His Spirit. Now here's the great question, and it's a frightening one for every child of God - at least it ought to be - if you never ever abide in Jesus, what does that mean? If you never fellowship with Him?
I remind you of Matthew 7:23, where a lot of people will come and say to the Lord on that day: 'Did I not do this, that and the other in Your name?', and the Lord Jesus will say, 'Depart from me, I never knew you'...John says, 'Neither have they known him'. Do you know Him? Have you got to know Him more since you professed faith in Christ? You know, this is why we push for people to read the Bible, and to pray, and to have a daily time with the Lord, to cultivate it and to get it to grow, because this is one of the ways we get assurance of our salvation, and we know fellowship with God and we grow as a Christian. But for someone to profess faith in Christ and never ever abide, or even have a lifestyle of abiding in fellowship with God, it is questionable whether they even know Him! Serious stuff, isn't it?
But the positive here for us in verse 6 is that there is victory over sin in communion with the Lord Jesus. This is the source, if we abide, have fellowship with Him, if we're in perfect harmony with Him and there's nothing between our soul and His heart we can have victory over sin! Now sonship that we looked at in our last study in the first three verses brings us into union with Christ, but it is fellowship that brings us into communion with the Lord. Do you see what it's saying? A Christian who is in sweet fellowship and wonderful communion with his Lord will constantly be gaining victory over sin. Maybe you don't think it's important, and sometimes, I have to confess with you, it's the hardest thing in the world to get on your knees and pray and to read the Scriptures - but never underestimate the power of it. I look back on times when I have fallen into sin with shame, and I can as often as not pinpoint the time when perhaps my times with the Lord started to wane - and then all of a sudden we wonder why we fall flat on our face in that old sin. If we live a sinful lifestyle it betrays an absence of abiding.
Number four in verses 7 and 8: to live a sinful lifestyle is not only lawlessness, and a denial of Christ, and a betrayal of an absence of abiding, but verses 7 and 8 tell us that it proves our spiritual parentage. Verse 7 says: 'Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as God is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning'. Now here we have John telling us that you can only be righteous if you have the nature of the righteous One, verse 7: 'He that does righteousness is righteous, even as God is righteous'. You cannot get righteous by obeying rules and trying your best. Peter tells us that we have been made partakers of the divine nature, God has given us His very life, the only life that pleases God is the life of His Son, and He has given us that life by His Spirit. But if you practise unrighteousness, the implication is, that is not natural to God - unrighteousness isn't in His nature. So then it begs the question: who is our father if we are habitually, in a lifestyle, practising sin? John's conclusion is: our father is the devil.
In John 8 and verse 44 the Lord Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees: 'Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it'. He's a liar from the beginning, Jesus said, and John says effectively the same in verse 8: 'He that commits sin is of the devil; the devil sinned from the beginning'. The tense there of 'sinned from the beginning' means that the devil's original sin has continued with out a break since it began - isn't that amazing? It's just like one big long sin! What is John trying to say? Are you like the devil or are you like God? What's the devil like? He sinned at the beginning, and he hasn't stopped sinning since - and if you profess faith in Jesus Christ, and you have sinned since your profession in a lifestyle and existence of sin, you don't belong to God, your father is the devil.
Some kids look so much like their parents that you couldn't lose them in a crowd, isn't that true? It's the same with the children of God and the children of the devil, they don't get mixed up - they're recognisable. But here's the crux, literally, of the matter at the end of verse 8: 'For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil'. If you name the name of Christ, and then follow a devilish sinful past, how can it be, if it was Christ coming into the world with the intent to destroy Satan's work that was meant to save you in the beginning? If Christ came into the world with the purpose of destroying the works of the devil, what is to be thought of someone who wishes to carry on the devil's work? The conclusions are obvious, aren't they? John says you're not a child of God.
I don't know whether you're sitting here worried or not - you should be if you're not a child of God - but there is a twofold test to tell us exactly how close we are to the Lord. It's an answer to two questions. First of all: how sensitive are you to sin? You'll know how close you are to the Lord Jesus by how sensitive you are to sin. Secondly: how separate are you from sin? John is saying that the man who is truly saved is abiding in the Lord Jesus, that means he doesn't want to be around sin. You and I both know that the one that you're closest with is the one that you will be most like and become more like, and John is saying that if you're living with Jesus and abiding in Jesus, it's because you're close to Jesus. But if you're living like the devil, what does that mean?
The positive of verse 8 is that Satan has been defeated. Whilst many need to question whether they're truly in the faith or not because they live like the devil their father, and practice habitual sin, isn't it great to be able to say categorically tonight that he has been defeated? If we are under the blood of Christ that He shed on the cross, the devil cannot make us sin. Now I know he can take us unawares, and he can call our bluff from time to time - but a lot of people, even Christians, need to defeat the lie of the devil in their mind and heart that says to them: 'You cannot resist this sin'. I know, it's happened to me, and I'm sure it's happened to you - some people say: 'Ah, I'm just prone to this, or that or the other, that's just my character, that's just my nature'. The devil would make us believe that and contradict what John says by the Holy Spirit, that Christ came to destroy, and has destroyed the works of the devil. 'Destroy' literally means 'to render inoperative', it could be expressed 'to put out of business, to decommission, to undo the devil's work'.
Imagine this: the Lord Jesus had just come down from heaven for a day, and went over and zapped with omnipotent power the devil off the face of the earth, and went back up to heaven - we might live a little bit more happily ever after, but the fact of the matter is He would not have undone what the devil had already done, would He? But He has come to die on the cross, to shed His blood, to be buried, to rise again, and to sit at the right hand of the Father interceding for us to undo everything that the devil has done against us. What a great discovery it is when the child of God realises that they're not fighting for victory and struggling with Satan and sin in the world, but they're fighting in the victory! It's already been purchased, the devil is already defeated at the cross, through the resurrection, and we are the victors and he is the vanquished!
Have you realised that? The devil wants to keep you down there, my friend. Christ has purchased the victory ground for you, and sin need no longer have dominion over you. If it does, ask the question: one, are you really a Christian?; two, do you really know the victory that Jesus has purchased for you?
There was once a US Army General, I think he was in the United States Army, his name was General Wainwright. During World War II he was taken captive by the Japanese, and he was beaten and starved and emaciated. One day a plane landed with the news that the war had ended, and the next day the Japanese, out of sheer habit, came to the compound with the General and started to torture him and beat him as they did every single day. They hadn't recognised that the war had ended, and they were defeated, and the General effectively was on the victory side. Just as the soldiers came in and started to lay into him, he said: 'Wait a minute! Put down your weapons, I'm in charge! You're my captives!'. They put the weapons down, because that was the fact - what had changed? Nothing had changed, they were in the same environment, the same forces, but what had changed was historical fact: the Allies had won the war. The fact of the matter is this: Christ is the Captain of our salvation, but Satan is the captive! Christ has sapped all his power, and we need no longer be under his control. Whilst the devil, at times, may throw us to the ground - praise God, he cannot pin you to the ground! Oh, that you would hear that tonight.
An habitual sinful lifestyle, finally, displays the lack of the Holy Spirit, verse 9. It is lawlessness, it is a denial of Christ's character and His cross, it betrays an absence of abiding, and it proves our spiritual parentage - but verse 9 tells us it displays the lack of the Holy Spirit. 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God'. Now, there's great debate over what 'his seed remaineth in him' means. Some people view it as the new nature which is imparted to us at salvation, some people believe it is the gift of the Holy Spirit, some believe it's the seed of the word of God - we're not born-again by corruptible seed, but by incorruptible, the word. It means all of those I think, but essentially it means the new life that we have in Christ, the seed of God's life in us. John is saying: if God has put that in us, it will remain in us. There's the verse for people who believe you can be saved one moment and lost the next. Their argument is: 'Well, that's a licence to go out and live as you please' - no, it's not! For John is saying that the evidence that God's life and seed remains in you is a life of holiness and not a life of sinfulness.
In other words, could I sum it up like this: a person who is saved is secure, but he must also be sanctified or he is neither. Did you hear that? A person who is saved is secure, but he must be sanctified or he is neither. Let me put it as the author to the Hebrews did: live peaceably with all men, for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Ultimately the standard of your lifestyle will be determined by how you view two things that we've looked at tonight: one, how you view sin. Do you see it as lawlessness, verse 4? Do you see it as of the devil, verse 8? But also your view of Christ is so important to have victory over sin: do you see His worth, verse 5? In Him is no sin, and therefore if you take His name you cannot sin. Secondly His work, verse 8, this is why He came into the world, why He died and rose again, why He's at the right hand of God: do you see Christ? Someone has wisely written: 'Every sin a Christian commits, he knows he adds directly to the burden that Christ bore on the cross'. Do we think about that when we sin? 'Every failure to conform to God's standards denies the spiritual victory that Jesus won on the cross, and', he goes on, 'it grants the devil grounds for hope. Nobody who understands why Christ came can possibly live in anything but a state of unceasing war against sin'.
An old Methodist evangelist named Dr Morrison taught the doctrine of perfection in holiness, and some great godly Methodist evangelists there have been. It was said that he came closer, perhaps, to practising the doctrine than many folks do. But someone asked the preacher, a bit with tongue in cheek: 'Dr Morrison, have you reached a point in your life where you cannot sin?'. This is an interesting answer, listen to it, Dr Morrison wisely, with a twinkle in his eye, said: 'No, my brother, I have not yet arrived at such a place; but I can tell you where I am right now. I have come to a place where I sin, but I cannot enjoy it'. Are you in that place? Am I in that place? May we get to that place - but should there be one here that even doubts that they're in Christ, my friend, you doubt your salvation until you're sure.
If you're troubled with habitual sin in your life, and we've all been there, you need to get your eyes now on that crown of thorns, on those nail prints, on that scarred side of the Saviour and realise your sin is what put Him there, my sin. But realise that it was there to cleanse you from it and, my friend, if you can get there by faith and avail by trust of what He did for you, believing that it's sufficient to purge your sins, He will save you, child of God He will restore you. Whatever you do tonight: get there.
Father, after we sin we always ask the question: why did we do it? We thank You that John has taught us if any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins, and not our sins only but for the sins of the whole world. There's many things that we don't know about sin in this life and ourselves, but we thank You that we know this much: at God's right hand there is a Saviour who has defeated sin and Satan, and the world and death and hell. Lord, may we shelter in Him, and may we be known as the children of God, not because of our profession alone but because of our lives - that it may be said of us: 'They walk as He walked'. Take us now to our homes in safety, we pray, in the fellowship and abiding of our Lord Jesus. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "The Saint And The Sinful Existence" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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