What we think we believe and what we actually value can be two, very different things. Unfortunately, this can often be people’s approach to Jesus. If you ask a random person on the street here in the city whether or not they believe in God, statistically, you are likely to hear them reply, “Yes.” Yet, for many, that is sadly as far as their spirituality goes. Can a person who truly believes in God, and even claims to know God, orient the vast majority of their lifestyle as if he doesn’t exist? More than that, can someone who is truly a Christian continue to live in a lifestyle of sin?
What is my relationship to sin?
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 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. 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. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:3-10).
In our culture today, sin can often be caricatured as this judgmental, oppressive aspect of Christianity that scoffs at the rest of the world. However, we only need to look at the Apostle Paul to understand the reality that everyone struggles with sin (Romans 3:23-24): both Christians and non-Christians. It was Paul that said,
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).
Yet, only a few verses later, Paul still concluded,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2).
If everyone struggles with sin, both as non-Christians and as followers of Jesus, then how can John say in the passage above, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6)?
First and foremost, we must remind ourselves that our “righteousness” is not something we either receive or maintain because of our ability to stop sinning. Rather, we are declared righteous (Romans 3:24) like a defendant found “not guilty” in a courtroom, because Jesus is righteous (1 John 3:7). In a sense, salvation is “putting on” the righteousness of Christ (Ephesians 4:24), exchanging it with our old self. That being said, we come back to our original question. Is what you believe different from what you actually value. While you may still struggle with sin as a follower of Jesus, it will not be the predominant characteristic of your lifestyle.
Avoiding habitual sin is not the only thing in view for John in the text, however. As he says in verse 10, “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God.” Just because you don’t struggle with sin as much as ___________ (fill in the blank), doesn’t mean you truly know Jesus. Behavior modification is not life transformation, and becoming a Christian is not simply about what you stop doing but what you start doing: looking more and more like Jesus. Though our sin often gets in the way, the general path of a regenerated Christian according to Scripture is one that slowly transforms them to look more and more like Christ.
So, in thinking through your salvation in Jesus today, you can ask these two questions:
- Is my life predominantly characterized by my love for sin?
- Is my life pursuing and slowly transforming into the likeness of Christ?