Church Re-Imagined: A Church which doesn’t sin

imageJohn makes two searching statements.

The first says that the Christian does not continued to sin, and the second that a Christian cannot go on sinning.

But in 1:8,10, John described those who deny that they are sinners by nature and by practice as deceiving themselves and calling God a liar; and in 2:1, although he said he was writing ‘so that you will not sin’, he explicitly added that ‘if anybody does sin’ (evidently a possibility to be considered), gracious provision has been made for his forgiveness. It is plain: John is not denying the possibility of sin in the Christian’s life.

Gnosticism led its adherents to different conclusions. Some supposed that their possession of this hidden truth had made them perfect; others maintained that sin did not matter because it could not harm the enlightened. Both positions are morally perverse. The first is blind to sin and denies its existence; the second is indifferent to sin and denies its gravity.

To the first John declares the universality of sin, even in the Christian; to deny sin is to be a liar. To the second he declares the incompatibility of sin in the Christian; to commit sin is to be of the devil. It is in order to confound these particular views of his opponents that John states the Christian position in such categorical terms.

First, he says that the Christian who lives in Christ does not continue to sin (6a and 5:18)-, this is a present tense, indicating a settled character like that of ‘the devil’ who ‘has been sinning from the beginning’ (8).

The second statement is that he who has been born of God will not continue to do sin. Again, it is not the isolated act of sin which is envisaged, but the settled habit of it, indicated by the verb, to do or to practise, which is used of ‘doing’ sin in verses 4a, 8 and 9, of ‘doing’ lawlessness in verse 4b, and of ‘doing’ righteousness in 2:29; 3:7, 10a.

The third expression is that the Christian ‘cannot go on sinning’ where ‘to sin’ is a present, not an “it would have meant ‘he is not able to commit a sin’; the present infinitive, however, signifies ‘he is not able to sin habitually’.


How great this love God has not only ‘shown’ us, but actually lavished on us. For children of God is no mere title; it is a fact. God gives us this privileged designation only because that is what we are by his grace, whatever other people may think or say. The ‘children of God’ and the ‘world’ are so different from each other, that the world does not know us (cf. 1 Cor. 2:15-16). The reason for this is that it did not know Christ.. As his glory was veiled in flesh, so our ‘life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3).

i. The hatred of Cain, and of the world (3:12-13)

With this mutual love which is commanded us, John immediately contrasts the behaviour of Cain. His hatred originated in the devil, the evil one, and resulted in murder, So we are not to be surprised if the world hates us. It is only to be expected that the wicked should continue to regard and treat the righteous as Cain regarded and treated his righteous brother Abel. Jesus warned us that it would be so (e.g. John 15:18—19, 25; 17:14), and by its hatred the world is simply giving evidence of its true spiritual condition which is ‘death’ (14). A similar instruction not to be surprised by the opposition and persecution of the world is given in 1 Peter 4:12 ff.

2. The love of Christ, and of the church (1:14-18)

Let the world hate; we do not hate, but love. Moreover, the fact that we love our brothers gives us a good ground for certainty that we possess eternal life. John associates himself with his readers in this glorious affirmation. We know (‘we know as a fact") that we have passed from death to life.

Great stress is laid in the New Testament on love as the pre-eminent Christian virtue, the first-fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), the sign of the reality of faith (Gal. 5:6) and the greatest of the three abiding Christian graces, which never ends and without which we are ‘nothing’ (1 Cor. 13:2, 8, 13).

The essence of love is self-sacrifice, which has been perfectly manifested in Christ and should characterize the lives of his followers also. But the self-sacrifice of Christ is not just a revelation of love to be admired; it is an example to copy. We ought (i.e. we should be willing) to lay down our lives for our brothers-, otherwise our profession to love them is an empty boast.

We ‘ought’ to do this, as a definite Christian obligation, because we belong to Christ, just as we ‘ought’ to follow his example in all things and walk even as he walked (2:6), and just as, if God’s love for us is so great, we ‘ought’ also to love one another (4:11).

True love is revealed not only in the supreme sacrifice; it is expressed in all lesser giving. Not many of us are called to lay down our lives in some deed of heroism, but we constantly have the much more prosaic opportunity to share our possessions with those in need (cf. Jas 2:15-16).

Love is ‘the willingness to surrender that which has value for our own life, to enrich the life of another’ (Dodd).

Loving everybody in general may i be an excuse for loving nobody in particular’ (Lewis). So John writes that if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, he is in debt to him.

The heretics were boasting about their new teaching; John’s appeal here, as in 1:5, is to the original, apostolic gospel, which was also public knowledge in contrast to the private and secret enlightenment which the false teachers claimed. His readers will be safe if they hold fast to the message which they heard, and that publicly and openly, from the beginning.

The truth about the person of Jesus Christ and about Christian conduct is unalterable. In both doctrine and ethics we must go right back to the beginning and enquire what the apostles originally taught and their first converts both had. An essential part of that message was that we should love one another (cf. 3:2 3; 4:7; 11-12; 2 John 5; John 13:34; 15:12,17).


The proof of being a Christian is not merely orthodoxy, but righteous conduct as well.

1. Christ’s future coming (2:28 – 3:3)

People will react to his coming in one of two ways. Some will ‘have confidence’; others will ‘shrink from him in shame’. In this letter, as in the letter to the Hebrews (4:16; 10:19), the word indicates the confidence with which the Christian may draw near to God in prayer now (3:21; 5:14), at the parousia (2:28) and on the judgment day (4:17). It is only if we continue in him today, however, that we shall be confident before him and not shrink from him on the last day.


We does not know the precise character of this inheritance. John confesses that the exact state and condition of the redeemed in heaven had not been revealed to him. This being so, it is idle and sinful to speculate or to pry into things which God has not been pleased to make known.

It will appear only when he will appear. The two revelations, of Christ and of our final state, will be made simultaneously. For then we shall ‘share in his glory’ (Rom. 8:17; cf. Col. 3:4).

This does not mean, however, that we know nothing about our future state. We do know this, that when he appears, we shall he like him, for we shall see him as he is. The sequence is clear. First, he will appear; in consequence, we will see him as he is; and so we shall be like him. (For references to ‘seeing’ God or Christ in heaven cf. Matt. 5:8; John 17:24; 1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 22:4).

This is all John knows about our final, heavenly state. Paul concentrates in his letters on the truth that in heaven we shall be ‘with Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:17; cf. Luke 23:43; John 14:3; 17:24). It is enough for us to know that on the last day and through eternity we shall be both with Christ and like Christ; for the fuller revelation of what we are going to be we are content to wait.

So, Christians who fix their hope (their confident expectation) upon Christ’s return, will purify themselves.  Purity is primarily ‘freedom from moral stain’. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from the stain and guilt of sin (1:7), but we have a part to play in purifying ourselves from its power (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Tim. 5:22; Jas 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:22).

2. Christ’s past appearing (1:4-10)

The purpose of his first coming which was to remove sins and to destroy the works of the devil. To continue in sin is thus shown to be in complete contradiction to the whole purpose of Christ’s first appearing.

i. The nature of sin: lawlessness (3:4-7)

The heretics’ arrogant assumption was that they constituted an initiated elite set apart from the rank and file. John will admit no such distinction. A dual standard of morality is quite foreign to the Christian religion. The gospel, with its moral implications, concerns all people, not just some.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

Do not let anyone lead you astray. The false teachers, tools of Satan the arch-deceiver, were seeking to lead them astray, not only theologically (2:26) but morally as well. So let them be on their guard. He who does what is right r righteous, just as he is righteous.


ii. The origin of sin: the devil

He who does what is sinful is of the devil. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s works. Morally, his work is enticement to sin; physically, the infliction of disease; intellectually, seduction into error. He still assaults our soul, body and mind in three ways; and Christ came to destroy his works. The devil is still busy doing his wicked works, but he has been defeated, and in Christ we can escape from his tyranny.

If, then, the whole purpose of Christ’s first appearing was to remove sins and to undo the works of the devil, Christians must not compromise with either sin or the devil, or they will find themselves fighting against Christ. If the first step to holiness is to recognize the sinfulness of sin, both in its essence as lawlessness and in its diabolical origin, the second step is to see its absolute incompatibility with Christ in his sinless person and saving work. The more clearly we grasp these facts, the more incongruous will sin appear and the more determined we shall be to be rid of it.

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