1 John 2:3-6; 3:6, 9
Yesterday we talked about assurance of salvation and how John tells us we can have it. You need to have the right belief (in Jesus) and right love (towards siblings in Christ). Now we come to the third test, the real kicker.
I need to write this out very carefully, and I plead with you to read it carefully as well. If there’s no change in your desire to please your Father which eventually works itself out into a changed lifestyle, then you have no assurance. I mean, there are plenty of verses in this book which make me wince every time I see them:
• We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
• No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
• 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.
I really need to spend some time clarifying this. The same author who wrote the above statements also said this: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” and “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."
We still sin as Christians. John said it. So how do we reconcile this? It’s the direction of your life that John’s addressing, not whether you’re committing this sin or that sin. Do you want to please your Father? Are you taking the steps necessary to deal with areas of disobedience? Is there growth? Is there improvement? Are you in the process of becoming like Christ? Do you see sin as the enemy of your soul?
There are a couple of other caveats that we need here. First, this is a process, not an instantaneous change. Yes, some people do undergo an overnight 180 degree change in their lifestyle. They were a drug addict or were sexually promiscuous, and the Lord grabbed a hold of them and they never did those things again. Of course, the first example of this that comes to mind is Paul, who immediately went from a hateful persecutor of Christians into the foremost spokesman for the faith. For most of us, however, the change is a lot more gradual.
Also we need to realize that this is a lifelong process. I recognize that there are some teachers out there who claim that it’s possible to be sinless in this life. I don’t buy it. Besides the 1 John verses we read above, Paul also confessed that he was a work in progress, that he hadn’t been made perfect yet. If you want to hear a more extended argument in favor of this position, I deal with it here.
I have so much respect for John Wesley that it’s not even funny. He founded the Methodist church and was one of the godliest men of his entire generation. The Lord used him in incredible ways. He believed and taught that it’s possible for a Christian to live a sinless life here on earth. But do you know what? On his deathbed he confessed that there was still sin that he was dealing with.
So how does this relate to the “backsliding believer”? If you’ve been a Christian long enough, you’ll see him: Someone who supposedly received Christ as Savior and Lord, and who now lives like the Devil. He’s completely abandoned any claim to be following Christ, and is actively disobedient. Well, based on today’s passages, what do you think John would say to him?
I want to end this with a word of hope. I know that someone reading this is going to get hit with a guilt trip right now. You’re thinking “I’m struggling with that sin, so obviously I’m not saved.” If so, you’ve missed my point entirely. A lost man doesn't struggle with sin any more than a fish "struggles" with the water in which he swims. If you’re struggling with a certain sin that doesn’t seem to go away, take heart. That’s exhibit A that you do belong to Christ. Keep working on it, and do what you need to do to improve. And eventually you’ll look back and see that he's carried you further than you ever thought possible.
Lord Jesus, sometimes it’s so disappointing to see how little progress I’ve made. You truly are the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. I am soooooo glad of that!