If we were to teach today’s passage without referencing the passage we used from last week, we could get ourselves into trouble. When reading and studying the Bible it is always important to read a passage in its context...it would be like getting a letter from your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse that says, “I could never say these words, “I don’t love you!” because I do.” And then ripping that middle section out and saying to them...Why did you say, “I don’t love you!” They would think you couldn’t read. If we are not careful though, that is often how we treat the Bible ripping this and that verse out of context because we like what it “says,” and so miss what it really says. So we have to be careful.
If we take today’s passage and focus on the idea of sin without seeing it in context of our being God’s lavishly loved children who are called to one day be fully like Christ...it becomes easy to slip into a religion of sin management and trying to be good without understanding God’s plan to help us remove sin from our lives.
Let’s read this passage...
1 John 2:29-3:10
29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 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. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”
This morning we need to put on our thinking caps a bit. There are two parts to this message...there is the teaching side where we have to cover a pretty weighty subject and there is, hopefully, the inspirational side where we bring it all together. See, we need to understand a few things about the biblical concept of sin in order to understand why we struggle with it, why Jesus is so important in regards to sin, and where do we go from here...
So let’s first ask the question...
What is sin?
For such a small word...Sin contains a lot of baggage. We lump everything into that word from telling a small white lie to genocide! When someone gets drunk...we recognize that as sin. When someone kills someone...we recognize that as sin. When someone tells a lie, steals a candy bar, “fudges” a tax return on purpose, extorts millions in a ponzi scheme, kills someone, beats a family member...we see those all as sin...and the list could go on and on.
We recognize that in the world of accountability and consequences all of these are not the same...they are different in degree and severity. No one in their right mind would say that murder and telling your wife that those jeans do not make her look fat are the same thing...and yet in the English language we have one simple word for all of it...Sin.
The problem comes when we start reading the Bible because there are so many different words used in the Old and New Testament to define this concept of sin. And in our Bibles they are all, for the most part, translated as the word sin.
There are a couple of primary definitions of sin in the Bible.
The first carries with it the idea of going out of bounds or straying from the path. To put this in sports terms this is like going out of bounds. The rules of basketball, baseball, soccer, football, lacrosse...all have a defined field of play. If a player steps across the boundary line...they are out of bounds. And sin, throughout the Bible, is often defined in terms of going outside the bounds of what God has laid out. He has established a boundary line for what it expected, and this word is used to describe those who out of ignorance or error step out of bounds.
The second main concept found in the Bible is the idea of missing the mark. This definition, to continue a sports metaphor, is when a person is aiming at a goal, but misses it. When a basketball player takes a shot and misses...he doesn’t get any points. When a soccer play shoots on the goal and misses...she doesn’t get any points. When we aim at God’s mark and miss...we don’t get any points...we have missed the mark...we have sinned. We are aiming at the mark...we are trying to hit it, but we missed.
The third concept is an action in breach of a relationship or rebellion against a person. This is the person who knows God and deliberately rebels against His will.
There is also the concept of perversion or twisting; this is deliberate wrongdoing. This is idea that sinfulness will often take something good and great and twist it into something for which it was never meant to be used.
There are several more words the Bible uses to define and put handles on this concept of sin...and yet all are translated with the simple word sin in the English Bible.
Yesterday Lori and I were talking to Victoria...she is originally from Columbia, and English is not her native language. I asked her how her classes were going and she talked about how in English we have different sounds for the same sets of letters. I have had several friends for who English was not their native language, and all have expressed frustration at similar things. So imagine what it must be like when we use 1 word for a concept that has so many different connotations and nuances attached to it.
But even in the midst of all the differences there is something that holds them all together...there is a common thread. It is all directed against God. God is the one who sets the boundaries we step outside of...God is the one who set the mark at which we aim and miss...God is the one against whom we rebel...Sin is directed at God because God is the one ultimately in control.
Having asked the question, “What is sin?” we now have to ask the question...
Why do we sin?
The simple answer is: we sin because we are born separated from God. From birth we are born with the desire to seek only after our own way. For those of you have spent any time around children...you quickly learn that the world revolves around them. They want what they want when they want it. They have to be taught to share because it is all about them.
I am convinced that the whole reason Brianna learned to say Momma and Dadda was to coerce us into getting her stuff. Shortly after learning to say Momma and Dadda...she learned to say “No!” and “Mine!” And it is that way with all children.
The church for centuries has called this concept: Original Sin. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, we are born separated from God. If you are born into a family that does not have a relationship with another family...you are born separated from that family. It is not because you don’t want to know that family. Your family doesn’t have a relationship with that family so you don’t. In a similar way we are born into a family that is separated from God, and because of this separation, we do not automatically seek the things of God.
It is because of this separation that we sin...and it is at this moment that John steps in and says...
God Hates Sin!
1 John 3:8, says, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Jesus appeared not just to be some nice guy who talked about God’s love and forgiveness and kindness...John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Destroy is such a strong word. God wants to destroy the sinfulness at work in our world. Don’t get this confused with God wanting to destroy the sinner...no God wants to destroy sin at work in our world. If you need an example of sin at work just open your web browser to your preferred news outlet. Murder, rape, genocide, lies, greed...it is all there...the work of the Devil, and I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad God hates sin because it is destroying our world and it is destroying our lives.
So God in His lavish love starts by destroying the sin at work in our lives. Before he can do anything about society in general God has to start with you and me in particular. He has to remove the sin in our lives so that as we band together in community we can be an outpost where God can work to rid the world of sin.
Remember, John is working from the premise that we are now the Children of God. We are loved. We welcomed into a family...and For John those who are born of God exhibit the characteristics of the family. You know that God is righteous...and those who are part of God’s family exhibit righteousness because they are part of God’s family.
We, of all people, should understand the destructive nature of sin and how it works in people’s lives...and out of this knowledge, John says, “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” John takes it a step further in today’s passage when he says, “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.”
Jesus came to defeat sin, and if Jesus came to defeat sin...shouldn’t those who call on His name and call themselves His followers be opposed to sin as well? So our spiritual journey, if it is to be what God intends, must include the regular removal of sin from our lives because sin is so destructive. This means we are listening to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, and regularly confessing and turning from sin in our lives...not because we are prudes or trying to earn our salvation, but because we know how destructive even a small root of sin can be in a person’s life.
1 John 3:4-6 stands as a challenge, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”
This is a tough passage. What does John mean when he says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning”?
John is laying out the goal. He is laying out the final destination...the ultimate goal. He is setting the bar back on the level it needs to be. Earlier in 1 John 3:2 he says, “...what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him...” He is aiming us toward the final goal.
When a coach is trying to inspire his team for a game he doesn’t say, “I want you to play well out there. I want you to do your best. It doesn’t matter if you lose. That’s okay.” No, he says, “Get out there and play to win!” He may have that other in his mind because knows the team will lose sometimes, but he tells them the ultimate goal is for them to win. We aim high, but with the understanding that we are still part of a realm that fights against this new birth we have as Children of God.
This week as I was preparing for this message I came across this saying, “Intimacy comes by being obedient to God’s demand for righteousness.” To be honest, my first reaction was What a great quote! But as I was reflecting on it and thinking about our time here in 1 John, I realized that neither John nor the Bible would agree with that statement. He would want to change it up a bit.
I don’t think the Bible teaches that righteousness gains intimacy. I think we see here in 1 John that intimacy leads to righteousness. It is not our righteous actions and obedience that lead to our intimacy with God. It is our intimacy with God that leads to obedience and righteousness.
I want to reword that phrase... “Obedience to God’s demand for righteousness comes because of our intimacy with God.”
John says that way to avoid sin is to live out of this intimacy with God...we are children of God...intimacy is a given as His children, and it is out of this intimacy that we no longer want to sin and by which we purify ourselves.
Awhile back I decided to change how I focus my mind when tempted. Instead of seeing it as a temptation to sin, I want to see it as an opportunity to choose God’s way of living. I am a child of God. You are a child or God, and out of our intimacy with our Father we are able to live obedient and righteous lives.
We are talking about more than just a conservative or morally good life...this is having implanted in us desire to live as Jesus that comes from being born as Children of God.
Are we going to miss the mark and stray from the path? Yes...but out of our intimacy it will happen less and less...and we will discover that if we keep our eyes on the goal, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us and to help us make it to the goal laid out in front of us.
In 1988 Derek Redmond was set to take the Olympic stage and run the 400 metre race. He was favored to win, but just 90 seconds before his heat he ruptured his Achilles tendon and had to withdraw from the race for which he had spent his life preparing. Between the 1988 and 1992 Olympics Derek underwent 8 surgeries to repair his Achilles tendon. He was again the favorite in his race. He posted the fasted time in his first round and won his quarter-final race. He was set to achieve all his dreams.
Watch what happened...
Sin wants to cripple us. And it has a done a good job of making many of us limp...but the real question is...Are you willing to get back up and let the Father help you across the finish line?
John’s strong words against sin are not meant to discourage us...we should be encouraged that our Father hates sin and wants to get rid of it...and we as His children should do all we can to rid ourselves of it as well...not because it earns us favor or salvation or anything like that...but because we are living out the DNA of our new family.