In Christianity, Practice Does Not Make Perfect

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we saw that our earthly bodies will be transformed at the return of Christ whenever that may be. We’re not sure exactly what our bodies will be like, only that we’ll be like Christ. But for the present, our lives are being transformed by the anointing of the Spirit and we have a responsibility to purify ourselves because Christ is our standard and our hope is fixed on Him. This morning, John reinforces the idea that abiding in Christ means authentic Christian living.

1 John 3:4-6 says, Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”

John begins this section as he has with other sections by offering a contrast and gives us more proof of an authentic walk in Christ. In the previous verse he said that everyone who has, “this hope fixed on Him purifies himself.”Just a couple of verses earlier in 2:29, he said, “Everyone who practices righteousness is also born of Him.”Now in v. 4 he says, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness.” Notice the contrast? Practices righteousness vs. practices sin. John definitely paints with a very broad brush. Can he really mean everyone?

In order to fully understand what John is saying, we have to properly understand the context. As a reminder, he’s refuting the claims of the Gnostics that taught only people with a spiritual illumination could be saved. They claimed Jesus did not come in the flesh because they believed all matter was evil. The knowledge they claimed to possess resulted in their salvation. All this is completely contrary to what John and the other writers of Scripture wrote through the power of the Holy Spirit. The key to today’s message is the verb tense of the word practice. When we think of the word practice, we sometimes think of a doctor, lawyer, or counselor and will joke that we don’t want to be involved with someone that is still practicing. For John, this word has a much deeper meaning. Not only does the child of God practice what is right and holy and pure, but he does not live a life that is characterized by sin. This word gives us the idea of a lifestyle, a continual pattern, a willful habit of life marked by sin and it is occurring right now. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our morally relativistic society asks, what is sin? In classic Greek, sin is the word harmatia and means missing the mark. Like that of a soldier missing his opponent. Or a traveler that misses the path or takes a wrong turn. In the N.T. harmatia gives us the idea of something that is more active. It is an intentional breach of God’s moral standard. It is a deliberate willful choice. Paul and John both clearly state that there are biblical and moral absolutes.

“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness.” There are no exceptions, no one is excluded. Again, John is talking about what is going on in a person’s life right now, on a daily basis. If you’re actively engaged in sin, you are also actively engaged in lawlessness. John is not necessarily referring to breaking God’s Law although that would also be correct. He doesn’t mention the Law in any of his writings. For John, the person he’s talking about knows the Law and willfully, intentionally breaks God’ moral standards. This is serious stuff he’s talking about. In 2 Cor. 6:14 Paul said, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Jesus is even more serious in Matt. 7:23, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Keeping it in the context of the letter, the Gnostics claimed that sin and spirit were indifferent to each other. What they did or did not do in the body was no reflection on their walk with Christ. In the Gnostic’s mind, sin was amoral; it is neither good nor bad. The idea that sin doesn’t matter is completely contrary to the principles found in Scripture. Today, some people – even those in the church – might claim that the Bible is not relevant for today’s society; it is old fashioned, that God does not expect the same for us today as he did of those that lived in Bible times. Sin today is different than the sin of yesterday. Sin is relative. John refutes that and I refute that. The Bible is as accurate and relevant today as it was 5000 years ago. It is still our guide for morality, for doctrine, for instruction in righteousness, for correction.

There is good news though. John gives it to us in v. 5. Jesus didn’t appear just to be a good example for humanity. He didn’t appear just to lead us and guide us. He didn’t appear just to teach us. While those are true John says, “You know that Jesus appeared in order to take away sins.” We know this simple yet profound truth, but I want you to really understand the significance of this verse. They know this truth because of the anointing John talks about in 2:27. They know that Jesus appeared. Appeared means come into sight or made visible. It stands to reason that something that appears must already exist. Jesus existed before He came into sight. Remember, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the father, full of grace and truth.” (Jo. 1:14)

So why did Christ appear? “In order to take away sins.” Take away is one word in Greek. It’s in the aorist tense presenting the idea of finality.  John 1:29 says, “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is Christ’s primary mission. What He did in the past to take away the sins of the world is still effective today. Sins – plural – the multitude of individual sins we commit each and every day. He appeared to take them away. The reason that works is that, “In Him there is no sin.” Not one evil or immoral thought. Not one fit of anger where He just couldn’t help it. Not one shred of hatred. Not even one little white lie. Notice that, “In Him there is no sin.” Sinlessness is an eternal characteristic of Christ. That’s how Christ can atone for our sins before God. He was, He is, and He will forever more satisfy the requirements for a perfect sacrifice as payment for our sin.

John gives us what I call a significant reminder. Continuing his theme of authenticity, look at what John says in v. 6 which is the natural conclusion of v. 5. Please don’t misunderstand what John in saying. We have the same two groups of people John has been talking about this whole letter. There are those whose lives are characterized by godliness because they abide in Christ. Then there are those that are characterized by their continuance in sin. No one who remains in sin as a lifestyle or habit abides in Christ. People cannot claim a relationship with the One that takes away sin and continue on sinning – present tense. It’s obvious that a Christian will at times sin, singular acts of failing to follow God, that’s why there is the provision found in 1 Jo. 1:9. While a Christian may fall into sin, he will not walk in it.

John is very clear. Those people that live in habitual sin have not seen Christ and do not know Christ. That’s the same as saying they don’t have a relationship with Christ. There is no authenticity in their profession of faith. It is not backsliding and it’s not a wilderness period. Sin is not your thorn in the flesh that you’ll just have to live with. Those that abide in Christ live a life that is characterized by doing what is right and pure and holy. An unbeliever has not seen Christ and doesn’t know Him and therefore lives in sin. For the authentic Christian, there is a clean break from the lifestyle of sin. Christians have been freed from the power of sin and are no longer slaves to it. Paul says it much better than I can, “Even so consider yourself to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11) For the child of God, sin no longer controls his life.

We have a hope fixed on Christ and we purify ourselves just as He is pure. Being a Christian is hard; the walk of faith is tiring and sometimes lonely. But Jesus never intended for you to do it alone. He left us the Holy Spirit of God. He left us His Word. He left us His church. Christians must abide in Christ.


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