1 John 3:9-10
We discussed this topic a little bit back in May when we discussed soteriology, so some of this might seem familiar to you. But even though it’s sort of the same topic, there are some aspects of it I didn’t get to back then which I’d like to address now.
As you’ll recall, John wrote his epistle--along with some issues regarding a heresy called Gnosticism—for one main purpose. He wanted truly saved Christians to be assured of their salvation, and he wanted nonbelievers who'd fooled themselves into thinking they were saved to be stripped of any false assurance. He presented three tests for anyone thinking they were truly saved. If you passed the tests, you’re fine. If not, then you need to examine yourself. The tests were: 1) Right beliefs, 2) Right affection (love for siblings in Christ), and 3) A right direction in your lifestyle.
Again I need to make this point, since some Christians and even some denominations are confused on this. We still sin as believers. I’m going to struggle with sin until I see Jesus face-to-face, and there are few days I can remember in which I didn’t need to confess and repent of something.
But please note the careful wording I made in point # 3. The question is not “Do you still sin?” The question is “What direction are you taking in this area?” Are you heading towards better obedience and more faithfulness, or are you wallowing in a sinful lifestyle?
That’s how most Evangelical teachers interpret today’s passage, and that’s why the NIV translates it as “continue to sin.” The NASB renders it “practices” sin. If someone claims to be a saved, blood-bought redeemed child of God and still practices an unrepentant sinful lifestyle, then the Bible offers him no assurance of salvation. Actually it does quite the opposite.
How does this work out in my own life? I know I placed my trust in Christ as a young adult, but I still screw up. Here’s what's happened: I can’t get away with sin anymore. There are things I used to be able to do with impunity, like cussing, which I can’t do anymore. I used to love pornography. Now any lustful look I afford to a scantily clad girl on the street brings enormous guilt. I can’t enjoy sin anymore.
That’s the difference between a child of God and someone who’s not. My favorite illustration that someone gave me years ago is that of a fish and a man. A fish doesn’t mind being in water. If he could actually think like we do, he wouldn’t even have a word for "wet" in his vocabulary, because he’s never experienced or even dreamed about any other environment. It’s his natural element. But a man’s natural element in not underwater. He can’t breathe water. If he fell into a pool, he couldn’t just sink to the bottom and continue his normal activities. He might even swim around for a while, but he can’t live down there. That’s not his home.
That’s the work of the Spirit. We have a new life implanted within us at the new birth, given to us by the life-giving Spirit. The same Spirit who breathed life into the first man (Adam) and the corpse of the Lord Jesus (the second Adam), breathes life into us. He plants his life in us. That’s why we can’t just keep living like we once did. I don’t mean “we can’t” in the sense of “we shouldn’t” or “It’s really bad if we do. . .” I mean it in the sense of “We can’t jump into the water and breathe in it like a fish.” He won’t let us.
All of this, by the way, is a wonderful act of love. Aren’t you glad that he won’t just let you wander off into a self-destructive life of sin? As someone once told me, “He loves you exactly as you are, and too much to leave you that way.” That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Holy Spirit of God, you won’t let go of me, will you? No matter what I do, no matter how much I deserve it. Thank you.