1John 1:1-4 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life –and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. [NET Bible]
I appreciate the New English Translation Bible (NET) and their effort for a clear and accurate interpretation. Their notes are extensive and often helpful. They provide Biblical commentary on bible.org where I found a detailed exegesis of 1 John. The following quote from that writing caused me to pause:
In contrast to v. 6, which reflects a claim of the opponents, the present verse introduces the counter-claim of the author of 1 John. However, does the author’s statement the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin refer to initial justification or to ongoing sanctification for the Christian? Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification. This means that fellowship with one another is also something shared between believers and is a result of a righteous lifestyle (“walking in the light”). The author is not worried about the initial justification (salvation) of the people to whom he is writing. Rather he is reassuring them about forgiveness of sins committed after having become Christians. (Click here for the full article.)
This argument is repeated and augmented when the commentary approaches verse 9, a much abused verse on sin. 1John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
The exegesis referred to above promotes the idea that a Christian must keep a short leash on his sins, confessing them on a regular basis in order to prevent sins from diminishing his access to God and disrupting fellowship with fellow believers. 1 John 1:9 is the key verse in this requirement. There cannot be a once-and-done forgiveness of sins, but there is a need for continuous confession of sin is the typical interpretation of this verse. To support this position the commentator requires that John’s epistle be about sanctification, not justification. We are cleansed of sins as we confess them and walk in the light and as we work to reflect Jesus in our lives. This is a saved by grace, sanctified by works understanding of Scripture.
To my mind, the commentator misses the radical demarcation between walking in the Light versus walking in darkness. I would argue that the following key statement is presumptive and not supported by the text: “Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification.”
I believe the prologue (verses 1:1-4 above) sets the tone for what is to follow. What happens to the darkness when you turn on the light? Does any darkness remain? Jesus is the light of the world. One comes to Him and finds life, or one stays in the darkness and suffers death, eternal separation from God. John leaves no room for being partly saved, or somewhat in the Kingdom. You are in or you are not. His readers are questioning this reality. Those who have come to the light are being challenged by those who have not come to believe in Christ. The opponents, those in the darkness, distort who Jesus is and what it is to be in fellowship with Him. John paints a picture of what it is to be in the light or to remain in the darkness. The discussion of sin arises because at its essence, Sin is rejection of God. Sin is the free human choice not to accept Jesus, a refusal to come to the Light. John’s joy will be complete when those in opposition come to the light, accept the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and enter into true Christian fellowship. The epistle turns then on this struggle between light and dark, between the refusal to accept justification in Christ and its consequences, or to accept justification in Him with all its subsequent positive attributes. John is writing about the stark dividing line of justification, not an ongoing progressive sanctification.
I will try to support my thesis by looking at the sin verses from 1 John interspersed with my comments:
1John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
What happens when we walk in the light? We have fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. When did this cleansing happen? When did we enter into this fellowship, this transition from darkness to light? This clearly occurs when one personally accepts the work of the Cross where Jesus in his death and by His shed blood took away the sins of the world. When we accept Christ, God promises to remember our sins no more. We are cleansed white as snow. Our sins are put as far from us as the east is from the west. Which of our sins are not forgiven? All our sins occur after the Cross and it is there that all our sins are forgiven. Note what we have in the light. We have fellowship and cleansing. We have those things, we do not produce them. We walk in the reality of being cleansed and in fellowship with one another.
1John 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
This is what walking in darkness is like. To have the truth is to have Christ. Those who will not come to the light deceive themselves and Christ is not in them. They deny God. Don’t let the use of “we” mislead you. It is the unbeliever who is described here. This is not “we Christians.” It is like saying “If we as human beings say…”
1John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
Notice the result of this confession; one is cleansed from all unrighteousness? At the Cross we died with Christ and rose with Him. Through our faith in Him we have His righteousness. This is justification language. This is once-and-done language. This is that single moment when a seeker recognizes his sin of rejecting Christ, confesses that sin and accepts Christ into his life.
1John 2:1,2 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.
Even if we sin as Christians we have an advocate with the Father. Notice that we do nothing, Jesus does it for us. If we sin, Jesus tells the Father, my blood is sufficient for that and the Father remembers that sin no more. There is no special pleading on our part. It is Jesus our advocate on view.
1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.
Jesus came to fulfill the law, because mankind could not keep it. The standard of the law is far too great for our human effort to achieve. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. No amount of contrition can atone for our sin. No amount of self effort will sanctify us.
1John 3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
Jesus did not come to judge us. He came to set us free. He takes away the sins of the world. He takes them away. He does the work we cannot do. On the Cross, Jesus has done all that is needed to deal with the issue of sin.
1John 3:6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
A very strong statement that describes being in the light or remaining in darkness. And here we have the crowning statement on sin. Jesus who has no sin has made it possible for us to be His temple, His dwelling place, pure and holy as He is. In our death and resurrection in Christ we have been circumcised from the sin that dwells in our flesh. We are no longer a part of the old, and we have been made new. This is the gospel John is preaching. Let me emphasize, this is an “in the light or in the darkness” statement. It is one or the other, no mixture of the two is possible. We are born from above and are in Christ. We do not sin. We do not oscillate in and out of Christ. Our actions do not change who we are in Christ. We are born of Him and that is an eternal reality that will never change. Christians reside in Christ and according to John they do not sin, period.
1John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous.
Is righteousness something we practice? Righteousness is right standing with God. It is not something we produce, it is a standing granted to us by God in Christ. We practice, or do righteousness by walking in its reality. We abide in the righteousness that Christ has provided to us. We are righteous just as Jesus is righteous. That is startling. Our standing before the Father is just as pure and holy as that of Jesus. You are as righteous as God’s Son is righteous. What deception are we vulnerable to? We can be robbed of the truth that we have the same standing before the Father that Christ has. It is not a matter of sanctification, our producing righteousness by our concerted effort to please God, it is a matter of who indwells you, the righteous One who assures your right standing before the Father. Don’t be deceived that that is not a reality in your life.
1John 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.
If you are in the light you practice righteousness. The presence of God is reflected in the way you walk in this life. If you reside in the darkness you practice sinful things. What we do depends on who’s influence we are under. The source of sin is Satan, not man and certainly not God. God’s wrath rests on Satan not on believers. Remain in the darkness and you remain under Satan’s influence. Come to the light and you are guided and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
1John 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.
Adam’s seed has been replaced by the Father’s seed. Adam sinned. The Father cannot sin. Our true selves, our new nature, does not practice sin because God’s seed dwells in us. We are born of Him. Our new nature is who we truly are. We are no longer identified with the flesh. This is a once-and-done event. As soon as we exercise faith in Christ we are born from above and the Father’s seed is implanted in us. The moment we are justified that seed is implanted and we no long practice sin. We cannot sin, we no longer have the sin nature in us. We have God’s love nature in us.
Conclusion: John is very clear about sin. God dealt with sin on the Cross. It is no longer an issue that stands between the believer and his relationship with God. We are new creatures in Christ made for the indwelling of God with the same standing of righteousness held by the Son. We are His holy temple. John does not hold to a weak view of the Cross and all it has accomplished for us. The Cross dealt with the problem of sin completely. It is surely once-and-done. Placing our faith in Jesus brings to us all the benefits of Christ’s shed blood. Any suggestion, in my view, that our sanctification requires our continual confession of sin diminishes the work of the Cross and distorts what John is saying. The good news really is GOOD NEWS! By faith in Christ we have stepped from darkness into Light and that ends our relationship with sin and sin’s standing in the way of our fellowship with the Father. We have the seed of the Father in us, we no longer practice sin, and we are not the source of sin. We walk in the righteousness that Jesus provides to us. John warns us not to be deceived. God has done a mighty work, walk in His light, don’t even imagine that the darkness has not been dealt with. In Him there is no darkness at all and He dwells in you.
The commentators get it wrong when they promote a progressive sanctification that depends upon our ability to continually recognize and confess our sins. They fail to recognize how completely Jesus dealt with sin when he shed His blood on the Cross. Walking in the light is not a progressive growth in Christ. It is the absolute quality of life that begins when we are born again of the Spirit and the Fathers seed, His very nature, is placed in us. Walking in the light is an eternal truth for the believer because he has turned from rejecting Christ to walking in faith with Him. These turning points are associated with justification not sanctification. John warns us not to be deceived.
1 John (3:6) Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
1 John (3:9) Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.
1 John (4:17) By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world.
1 John (5:18) We know that everyone fathered by God does not sin, but God protects the one he has fathered, and the evil one cannot touch him.
Do not be deceived.
First John addresses the problem of deceivers living among Christians. He tells Christians how to know that they are indeed Christian and how to recognize deceivers. It is rather simple, Christians love one another, and they love Jesus. They live in an immoral world by faith. They have conquered the world. They do not sin.
Yes, John says that Christians do not sin. That is hard for us to wrap your minds around. It is not what is taught to us on most Sundays. To say that Christians do not sin goes against our own experience. Nevertheless, as the verses above demonstrate, Christians do not sin. We have moved from a state where sin occurs to a state where sin cannot occur. John makes an unreserved statement that “everyone who resides in him does not sin.” He says, “…everyone fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin… and everyone fathered by God does not sin, but God protects [them].” Paul comes to similar conclusions when he concludes that we are no longer under the law. He says that the law excites sin, but we have died to the law and its penalty of death. John says that we have life and joy.
We have a profound problem accepting the concept that we do not sin. Christians major on sin to a flaw. We cling to our continual need for confession and repentance. A verse like 1 John (1:9) feeds our paranoia.
1 John (1:9) But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.
Christians take that verse so seriously, that all those other verses make no sense to us at all. That one verse brings a lot of pain into our lives. We doubt that we have confessed all our sins. We wonder how many sins we have overlooked. We know that our pride will not allow us to confess some of our sin. We debate about how often this confession must occur. What do we do with forgotten sin? Is it even possible for us to identify all our sins? How many sins do we commit unaware? This verse is nothing but trouble for most of us.
We arrive at one conclusion. We are unrighteous and someday we will have to pay for those unconfessed sins. There will be a judgment day, we will stand before the Lord, and He will review our life, one unconfessed sin at a time. I can see the humiliation on our faces even now. I fear that humiliation as much as you do. This is not a pretty picture and it is one reinforced Sunday after Sunday from our pulpits and in our Sunday school classes.
It is reassuring that that theological construct does not fit the Gospel. It does not fit what John is trying to convey. Our problem rests in what we have been taught. It is time we take a fresh look and find out what John is saying, especially verse (1:9). This will be hard to do in the face of sermon after sermon extolling how sinful we are and how we must be accountable for those sins and how thy must be confessed before a Holy and Righteous God.
Look at those ‘you do not sin” verses for a minute and then try to reconcile them with that one verse that demands confession of sin. You have statement after statement that we Christians do not practice sin. John does not equivocate. He makes simple statements that are impossible to ignore. In that light the, “confess your sins,” verse stands out starkly from the others. That verse is rather unique. In fact, you will not find another like it in all of the New Testament. Seriously, try it. Find another New Testament verse that directs you to confess your sins as plainly as this one does. Let me tell you, a lot of doctrinal weight rests on that one lonely verse.
We find it easy to answer these simple questions. Is Jesus holy? Yes. Is there any darkness, or any evil in Christ? No. Finally, are you in Christ? Of course, you are in Christ. Now stop and think a second. What conclusion can we draw from these simple questions? The obvious conclusion is that if you were essentially corrupt, then God would not allow you to be in Christ. He would not allow something corrupt to dwell in His Son. That is a simple argument. There is no sin in Christ. God cannot allow sin to indwell Him. We are in Christ. We can have no sin in us if Christ is to remain holy. God wants us to be in Him and he assures that we remain sinless in Him.
John says the following: 1 John (1:5) Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
Light and dark represent real things to John. Christ is the light of the World. The darkness is the state in which the unsaved reside. There is sin and death in the darkness. There is law keeping in darkness. There is purity, love, and life in the light. There is walking in the Spirit in the light. In the light, one overcomes the darkness. It is important to understand that a person cannot stand in the light and in the darkness at the same time. That is a physical and spiritual impossibility. We overcome the world in the light. John leaves no room for some middle ground between the reality of being in the light or the darkness.
1 John (5:4) because everyone who has been fathered by God conquers the world. This is the conquering power that has conquered the world: our faith. (5) Now who is the person who has conquered the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
John (8:12) Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John (17:11) I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.
We are united with Christ. We will never walk in darkness. We have the light of life. We are no longer of this world.
Confession, in the Biblical Greek, is a compound word, homo, and logeo, that means “same-say,” or to speak the same thing. Confession occurs when ones speech reflects some inner truth, an inner reality. True confession is spontaneous, unrehearsed, and heartfelt. It is not testimony, or a speech.
There are twelve “If” verses in first John? We are looking at a subset of six of them. These verses address qualities of either believers or deceivers. Here are the verses along with some comments:
(1:6) If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. [Deceivers claim fellowship with Christ, yet continue to walk in darkness. They are liars.]
(1:7) But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. [True believers walk in the light and do have fellowship, not only with Christ, but also with one another. Believers are cleansed from all sin. Believers are always in the light.]
(1:8) If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. [Deceivers deny their guilt of sin. They do not have truth in them.]
(1:9) But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. [Believers find themselves in this state.]
(1:10) If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. [This refers to deceivers. They will not admit to their sinful state and thus make Christ a liar and his word is not in them. They have no life.]
Verses 6, 8 and 10, are based on what deceivers are saying. These quotes reflect past or present behavior. The outcome of that behavior is certain, when and if the behavior occurs. We can imply that verses 7 and 9 are parallel statements about believers. The first clause in each of the verses concern past or present behavior, which, when they occur, their outcomes are certain.
Verse 9 then, says something true about believers. The confessing is a past or present occurrence. The second part of that verse makes clear when that confession occurs. Look at the promise in this verse. The promise is that Christians will be cleansed from all unrighteousness. I must repeat that, cleansed from all unrighteousness. How much of our unrighteousness is cleansed? ALL OF IT. Sorry for yelling, but if you do not get the point, I will lose you.
How often does this cleansing of all unrighteousness occur in a Christian’s experience? I will give you a hint. It has to do with light and darkness. It has to do with the clear divide between being unsaved and saved. It has to do with the effectiveness of Christ’s shed blood. It has to do with our being “in Christ.” It has to do with life or death. At what point in our Christian experience do we finally speak the truth about the sin that exists in us? At what point do we “same-say” what we recognize to be true inside our very being, that we have rejected God and served ourselves. It only happens once in our Christian experience. It occurs when we confess our fallen state before the lord. We confess the truth that we have denied about ourselves and we seek His righteousness, not our own.
John is not calling on a Christian to be a navel gazer, repeatedly confessing or sins. He is declaring our standing before God based on our true and final confession that we have denied His rightful place in our lives. John says that when we come to Christ we no longer sin, we have the righteousness of Christ in our very being.
John’s 1:9 verse about confession does not place a Christian back under the constant microscope of the law that exposes sin and brings death. John is saying that true believers have confessed their sin and have the absolute assurance that they now have the righteousness of Christ. Christians walk in the light as He is in the light. 1 Corinthians (15:56) The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. Romans (8:2) For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans (7:5) For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. (6) But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.
Romans (8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (2) For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. (3) For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans (8:8) Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (9) You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. (10) But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. (11) Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.
Do you see the power of the Gospel to set us free from the absolute curse of law keeping? Christians should be free from navel gazing. We have the righteousness of Christ at work in us. We walk in the Spirit that sets us free to be all that God desires for us to be. We confess our sin once and we are assured that God will make us righteous. That is all verse (1:9) means. It is not a command for navel gazing. It is a guarantee of our freedom in Christ. If that does not bring joy to your heart, nothing will.
We say to ourselves and to others, “I am a sinner saved by grace.” This is often spoken with a weary tone in our voice and a stoop of the shoulders. We say it almost as an announcement of the futility of life and our struggle with sin. There is no triumph in those words no matter how true they may be.They almost become an excuse for the lack of joy and freedom in our lives.
John says, “Confess your sins to one another.” We seldom do. We hide our sins because we are genuinely ashamed of them. God calls us to be perfect as our Father is perfect and we weep. We have no choice but to weep because we know that we cannot produce such perfection. Our shame and our weeping are part of God’s grace. Without Him in our lives, we would neither weep nor be ashamed. We would go on sinning oblivious to the harm we produce.
How many disciplines would it take to remove all your sin? What techniques does God make available to you to become more like Him? Is an imitation of Christ what God truly wants from us? Is your flesh doomed forever to be your enemy, the villain in your life forever dragging you to those dark places you do not want to go? How in the world can Jesus heal a person and then tell them to go and sin no more? Does he ask too much? Is he being unrealistic?
How many would argue that God gave us the Ten Commandments to keep us from sinning? I have heard it urged that Jesus is our savior and our Lord and now we must obey Him and obey his word. It is as though God has lain down a template for us to follow as we grow in Christ. However, as hard as we try we repeatedly fail. The more we keep the law and the principles of Scripture the more lust burns in our hearts and minds and we slowly learn that the law, God’s Moral Law, or our understanding of the precepts in Scripture, do nothing but excite the very sin it is to guard against.
OH, there are those who do grow in the Lord. Their lives reflect very real changes. They wonderfully give up drugs, smoking, and alcohol. They treat their spouses better and their neighbors. God is good. He has given them grace. Nevertheless, if you ask them, no matter how great the change, they will say that they are still sinners saved by grace. The sin still clings.
The fact is that no man but Christ has lived in the flesh without sin, none. Christians do have an advantage. They have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them counseling, guiding, and teaching them. A Spirit that comes against the darkness and brings light and power to do God’s will. We take to heart the admonition to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh whatever that might mean. We search for its meaning in Scripture, and we define it and we put a hedge around it and we make it into another set of principles to follow. Then we find that sin clings like dirty rags all the more.
We mature over time. Living erodes the rebellion in us. We see too often the hurt we cause and we try harder not to repeat that behavior. Wisdom happens and we are grateful for it. We learn to pick up our cross and endure in a world gone mad. We define different ways to die to self. We give more, we volunteer more, and we go to Church more. We align ourselves with the right causes in ways that are potentially and often realistically dangerous to our livelihood and well-being. We tithe. We test the Lord as He encourages us to do and we give of our fortune. And the sin clings as it always has.
Where is our sanctification? Is it an illusion, a mere hope that lies around the corner that never quite comes? Is it a false promise, or is it real? Why do we not see it?
All these questions have no worldly answer. The only answer is Christ and Christ alone. The problem is that that answer is not satisfying to our earthly minds. It means nothing tangible, nothing real in our way of behavior. It is too mystical to mean anything to us. Yet, that is the only answer God has given us for our sinful ways, the only answer.
Confess your sins. Yes indeed. Speak out your transgressions quickly and often. Get them behind you. Make atonement for the hurt they have caused and move on. Confess your sins so that you do not dwell in them. Nevertheless, dwell we do with a vengence. I am a sinner saved by grace you see as we go about the business of sanctifying ourselves.
The truth is that we are not in the sanctification business, the Lord is. We cannot do the work only He can do. The flesh is a neutral thing, neither good nor evil. It is a vessel made to contain spirit. We are directed by either God’s spirit, or Satin’s spirit in this world. Either we are adopted sons of God or we are sons of perdition. Those are the choices. The influence of Satin’s spirit has been dethroned in the Christian’s life. He has no power over you. John puts it this way:
1 John 3:5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
Take these verses to heart. Jesus took away our sins. We are reborn into Him. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. My sinning is fading away because I abide in Christ. John is an either or kind of person. It is this way or it is that way with no in between. You are of Christ or you are of the world. You live a righteous life because of Christ in you or you do not have Christ in you. You were once of Satin and practiced his deceit but now you are no longer of Satin and you no longer practice his deceit. John states it boldly, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” God planted in you. You have been born of Him. We abide in that.
Abiding in Christ is a state of being not something I create by hard work. We have God’s DNA in us; we are born of Him. We have Christ in us. We are vessels made to contain His Spirit and that is the reality of our life in Him. It is where we live; were we abide. God designed us to be this way and He is restoring us to that original design.
Sin at its heart is rebellion against God. Our rebellion died when we died to the world and were reborn in Christ. We have come to hate our sin. It is no longer a friend or ally. It hurts us deeply when we act against God and His purpose in our lives.
The flesh is not evil, but it is powerfully programmed. It has developed some deep and stubborn ruts that seem to drag us repeatedly down the wrong path. Our old habits haunt us and they seem to have a power over us that are constantly present. It is a dying power, a fading power. It is not who we really are. The truth is that we cannot fix what is broken. Set a rule, a hedge, a goal to eradicate some of our entrenched behavior and you will unleash its full furry. The law excites sin. The sin is excited and we begin to live in that defeat with no joy and no hope. The world and its ways have no answer for our fleshly ruts and out of control desires. The world can only hand us a brush and some whitewash encouraging us to make it all look better on the outside while the inside is all decay and rot. The world and its law offer no hope.
But we know the truth and the truth shall set us free. We “know that he appeared to take away sins…” We know that “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” We know that we have “Christ in us the hope of glory.” Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Every time we say, “I am a sinner saved by grace” we should also confirm that, “Christ has set us free.” We need to live in the reality of what God is doing in our very being. I do not see any progress. Why is my struggle so hard? There is so little change in my life?
Do not claim to be able to do what God is doing in you. This is not a walk by sight; it is a walk of faith. Faith is receptivity to God’s activity in your life. Be ready to receive what he has for you in each moment of your life. He will provide what you need. He is at work deep within you to bring Glory to Him. Our doing is not the key. Our God given receptivity is the key. Do not look to yourself, look to Christ. Phil 2:13…” for it is God who works in you, both to will and to
work for his good pleasure. “Phil 1:6 “… I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
The answer to our sin problem is Christ and Christ alone.
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. (Net Bible)
Are we to remain in sin that grace may increase? I will bet your answer is of course not. No way does grace give license to sin. We have a clear obligation to stop sinning don’t we? We are Christians after all. We are about the job of putting to death the deeds of the flesh are we not? I take it you then agree with Paul’s, “Absolutely not!” No way should we continue to sin so that grace might increase period. But what does Paul mean when he continues with “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Let me ask you. How can you live in sin if you have died to sin? You see Paul believes that to ask the question “are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?” is absolutely absurd in face of what God has accomplished and provided to us.
For a moment let’s assume that I have an obligation to drive within the speed limit. The law sets the limit and sets out penalties for violating those limits. I am caught speeding and I get a ticket. I owe a fine and it is a big one. Before I pay the fine I die. Lucky me! What power does the law have over me? Now that I am dead it has no power at all. The courts don’t collect fines from dead men. How silly is that? If I was sentenced to death for a murder and I die before they put me in the electric chair, will they then try to electrocute me. No, you say. Absurd, you say. Paul agrees.
What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Paul is saying what an absurd question. You are dead. The law can no longer reach you and where there is no law, there is no sin. It is as though by some gracious act of Congress all the laws are set aside because you are in some way dead while still walking this earth. No Congress would be that gracious, but we can dream a little can’t we?
We have died those of us who have accepted God’s gracious gift of His Son. When we were baptized into Christ we were baptized into His death. We died and were reborn, not of the law, but of the Spirit into a new life, a life free from sin and free from the law that judges that sin. It was God’s grace that put us in this state of sinlessness and it is His grace that maintains us in that state where there is no longer any condemnation by God toward us. Sin cannot increase because it is grace that has put an end to the power of sin in our lives. “1John 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.” (Net Bible)
Much of the time we Christians are not living the life Christ has provided for us. We walk in constant fear about every deed done, or not done. We judge our acts, are they worthy or not. We constantly plead with God to accept our behavior, or to forgive it. We hedge our life with rules and expectations, with activities and with obligations. We do our disciplines with a futile hope that we are pleasing to God and what does it get us? Certainly not more grace. Much of the time we feel that God has abandoned us. Our lives feel empty and futile. Where is the joy? Our joy has gotten swallowed by the curse of the law that we insist on living under. How can we who died to sin still live in it? Paul thinks such a state is absurd in the face of God’s grace through the Cross.
We read these verses and we get it backwards. Grace trumps sin every time. It is a done deal. When we read those verses as a challenge to stop sinning we deny God’s grace that has already put an end to the principle of sin in us. We are dead folks. We can’t get any deader as far as God is concerned. We died when Christ died and we died when we allowed Him to enter into our very being joining His life to ours. “It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me…” Do you get that? My actions, my thoughts, my life is directed by Christ Himself, not me. I may feel like I am in charge, but I am not. My flesh falls back on its old habits and I know that, and I also know that those habits have no lasting effect over my life. I am directed by God’s spirit and no longer by Satan’s. Grace has truly set me free from the life I lived before of sin and death.
Paul thinks us absurd when we confuse our life in Christ with the old life under the influence of Satan. He thinks our confusion about sin and grace is silly in the face of the real death we have experienced.
We are truly free of the law, we died. Let us live by God’s Spirit. Do the things you do and enjoy them. Live life knowing, that what you do and who you are, cannot
be separated from Jesus Himself expressing Himself through you. You are dead to the law and the sin it empowers. You are alive in Christ and His Spirit that fulfills the law in you. Know the joy that only grace can bring.