the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Whoever abides in [Jesus] does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him (1 John 3:6)
An isolated reading of 1 John 3:6 (and following) seems to indicate that true Christians do not sin at all. But the first rule of scriptural interpretation is “context.” Therefore, we cannot read 1 John 3:6 in isolation and must read the passage in the context of the entire letter. When we do so, we see that earlier in his epistle, John said, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10). John is instructing fellow Believers on how to remain in right relationship with our Father in heaven. He tells us we are wrong to believe we cannot sin. Moreover, when we do sin we should quickly confess that sin, turn from it, and receive the Lord's forgiveness. In light of this we understand 1 John 3:6-10 as a warning against habitual or willful sin.
The danger here is to weaken the message of 1 John 3:6 and end up doing exactly what John says we should not do: excuse habitual sin. The man who loses his temper and routinely lashes out at family and friends, may point to earlier passages in John's epistle as exoneration for his behavior. To do so is nothing more than self serving nonsense. We must read and understand all of John's letter (actually, the entire Bible) in order to get the whole picture. When we do, we come to the conclusion that true followers of Jesus Christ do not accommodate willful sin. This is the message of the Bible from one end to the other. Thus, anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people (Numbers 15:30); keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me. Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion (Psalms 19:13); For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:26). To sin defiantly is to be in rebellion, accommodating sin in your life. To sin flagrantly is to act as if you are exempt from the commands of God. To sin willfully, even though you know the truth, is to shake your fist in the face of God. For, anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:28-29).
More on this topic next week.