When you hear someone speak of a doctor’s office, they often refer to it as a place where the physician practices medicine. And we understand what that means, don’t we? It doesn’t mean that the doctor is practicing medicine as a means of learning medicine. None of us would trust our health to someone who wasn’t already a doctor, but was just someone who was practicing to be a doctor. We understand that it means a doctor is practicing what he has already been trained to do. He practices what he is. The dictionary defines practice as the exercise of profession. I like that.
The application of practice to the church is that there are many that have professed to be Christian, but in practice, it is evident that they are not. The Apostle John, in essence says that very thing in verse 4, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” On the other side of the coin, the Apostle John says that the one who is truly saved, practices righteousness. Look at vs.7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”
The distinction is plain. Those who are sinners, practice sin, and those who are righteous, practice righteousness. John is offering us a moral test of fellowship with God. If we are truly a child of God, if we are truly born of God, then we will exhibit God’s character, which is righteousness. If we are not truly born of God, then we are born of the devil, as he says in vs.8. “the one who practices sin is of the devil.”
Now that may sound like a harsh judgement, but John says that the children of God and the children of the devil are made quite obvious by their deeds. Vs.10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
Now that contrast should be convicting for all of us. It shows that if our behavior does not match our profession, then our faith is suspect. And we should examine ourselves as to whether we are truly a child of God not only by our profession, or by some past emotional experience, not only by our knowledge of doctrine, but by the evidence of our actions.
So let’s do that this morning. Let’s examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s word, to see if we are truly of the faith. Because as John indicates in vs.7, it’s possible to be deceived. It’s possible to think you are going to heaven, that you are a child of God, and yet you are not. Jesus said in Matthew 7, “by their fruit you shall know them.” In other words, you will know His disciples by the actions of their lives. Jesus went on to say in vs21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” There is that word again, “practice.” If you practice lawlessness, you are a sinner.
John defines sin as lawlessness. Vs.4, “sin is lawlessness.” Sin is simply rebellion against God’s law. He is not speaking necessarily of just the 10 commandments. He is speaking of the will of God. The plan of God, the word of God. God’s word is law.
Human nature harbors an innate rebelliousness against the law of God. It’s natural. It’s common to all of us. Romans 3:10; “There is none righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Sin is the endemic condition of the entire human race. We all have the sin nature as the default condition of our being. And all sin, any sin, breaks the chain of fellowship between God and man. It’s like a chain between God and man, and the failure of only one link ruins the whole chain.
Let me try to explain something that is important to understand about the law of God. God is not capricious. He didn’t make a bunch of rules and regulations just to be difficult. God is our Creator. He made us with a divine purpose; to be like Him, and to have fellowship with Him. That’s why He created us. And so when we go against His design, then it’s rebellion against our Creator and against His creation. God’s law, God’s word is the blueprint for our lives, it’s the laws by which our purpose can be fulfilled. We were not made to live independently from Him. But we were created to be in union with Him. And sin has broken that union. Sin breaks fellowship with God.
Sin is lawlessness, and lawlessness is rebellion against God. Rebellion doesn’t sound so bad, though does it? It doesn’t sound as bad as drunkeness, or addiction or immortality. Most of us would agree those are sins. But rebellion? Is it really so bad? Well, consider what God has to say about rebellion in 1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD.” God says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. And stubbornness is as the sin of idolatry. That sounds pretty serious to me.
On that subject of idolatry, I read an interesting quote from RC Sproul the other day which says the following; “A god who is all love, all grace, all mercy, but no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, and no wrath, is an idol.” Listen, God is not revealed in your imagination, but God is revealed in His Word. Be careful what you believe about God. Otherwise you may find yourself worshipping an idol of your own imagination, rather than the God of scripture. John says that Jesus is righteous, in vs 7. Righteous doesn’t just mean someone who does good, but it means holy, sinless, loving justice, doing the will of God, keeping the commandments of God.
So our condition is sinful, hopeless, separated from God who wants to be in fellowship with us but cannot because He cannot abide with sin. But John says in vs.5, that Jesus, the Righteous Holy One of God, manifested Himself to the world to take away sin. He came to restore fellowship with God, to reconcile us to God. John says He was able to do that, because in Him was no sin. He was sinless. He was as John the Baptist said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Now how does Jesus take away sins? Well, first of all He took away sins by removing the penalty of sin. And He did that by substitutionary atonement. That’s a $10 theological term that means He was God, He was sinless, and He took our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty for sin. Only God could atone for the sins of the world. And only His righteousness could outweigh the sins of the world.
To that end, Jesus paid the penalty for sin by dying on the cross. For those who believe and trust in Him as their Savior and Lord, His atonement redeems you from the penalty of sin. But not only does He take away the penalty, but He breaks the power of sin. And I think this is more the point of John makes here in this section. He is not just talking about past sins, but the present practice of sin. So Jesus came to take away the power of sin. Paul said in Romans 6:14 that sin will no longer master you. Sin no longer has control of you. When a person is born again, they give themselves as servants to a new master. That’s what the title “Lord” means. Master, Sovereign, Lord. We are now controlled by the Spirit of God. No longer under the master of sin. We serve Christ.
One day, He will come again in the clouds, and He will make all things new, a new heaven and new earth. And we will be given new bodies which are incorruptible. In that day, God will take away the third aspect of sin; the presence of sin. There will be no more sin, and consequently, no more death. But now we still live in the present, the penalty of sin has been removed, and the power of sin has been broken. It no longer controls those who have been born again.
So how does that work practically? How is the power of sin taken away in your life? Look at vs.6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” So if you know Christ, and abide in Him, then you will not sin. Abide has the same meaning as fellowship. If you know Christ as your Savior, and you abide in fellowship with Him, you will not sin. That is the secret to being set free from the power of sin. You abide in Christ. When we abide in Him we do not sin. When we break fellowship with Him we sin. Sin breaks fellowship with Him. We must abide in Him, commune with Him, live in Him, and He in me. We do so practically by reading His word, meditating on His word, and obeying His word. We do so practically by being in a constant state of prayer. Abiding in Him is constant communication with Him. Confessing, agreeing with God, that our sin is lawlessness. It is grieving to the Lord. Confessing and repenting so that it is forgiven and fellowship remains unbroken.
Maybe the idea of abiding is one that needs explanation. It means that we recognize that we are His, that He is in us, and that He is with us. And so knowing that He is with us, we do not want to sin, to bring shame upon Him. An illustration of that is in my natural state I like to speed when I drive. I don’t naturally like driving the speed limit. But going the speed limit gets a lot easier when I see a Highway Patrol car tailgating me while going down the freeway. I have no trouble staying in the speed limit when they are around. So it is with our walk. We may not always feel like being obedient, being loving, being faithful. But if we really believe that He is right here with us, watching us, it becomes a lot easier doesn’t it? I guess the problem is that we don’t really believe He is with us. But He is. And He is not there to bash us over the head with a baseball bat when we step out of line, but He is there to encourage us, to strengthen us and help us. And if we fall anyway, He is right there to pick us up and wash us off and help us get back on our way.
Now verse 6 needs some further explanation, because it says that “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Yet John said in chapter 1 vs 8 that “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” So that sounds like John is contradicting himself. But the original language makes a distinction that isn’t readily apparent in English. In English, there are three tenses, past, present and future. But in the original language there were more than three tenses. What this tense that John uses indicates is a present and habitually continuing action. John is speaking of a settled, continual sin. It’s a lifestyle of sin.
As 1John 1:8 indicates, we all sin occasionally. But there has been a change of nature in those people who have been born again. We now have a new nature, a new guiding principle of life. We have new desires, what the Bible describes a new heart. This is what is meant by being born again. God describes this conversion in Ezekiel 36:26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Now to one who has this change of heart, he no longer continues in sin, no longer takes pleasure in lawlessness, but his desire is to do the will of God. So imputed righteousness results in practical righteousness. What’s inside comes out.
This is the secret of salvation. Being born anew. Having a new heart. It is not mustering up the willpower to be a better person, to go to church, to try to stop doing bad things. That’s simply willpower. But inwardly you are still a sinner, and though you may try to be good, it can never be good enough to meet the standard of God’s righteousness. But when you by faith accept the righteousness of Jesus Christ in exchange for your sins, and you receive a new heart, and a new spirit within you, now you are truly changed on the inside. And what is on the inside will work it’s way out externally in the way you behave. So as we examine ourselves in light of God’s word, we must ask ourselves if we have been born again? If there is evidence of a change of heart, evidence of the Spirit of God working in us that which is pleasing to Him.
Now John reaffirms this by saying that God is righteous, and if we are born of God, then we will be righteous. Vs.7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” Listen, it is possible to be deceived, as I warned you earlier. There are a whole host of false prophets on television and in churches today that never talk about sin, that will not classify anything as sinful, and that basically tell you that you can live anyway you want and God will still love you just as you are. But that is not the God of the Bible. That’s an idol. The God of the Bible is righteous, holy and true and there is no unrighteousness in Him. If you have been born of Him, then you will practice righteousness, because He is righteous and you have received His righteousness in you. There is going to be an outward expression of what is transpired inwardly. And that is expressed in doing God’s will. That’s what righteousness is; doing the will of God. It’s the opposite of lawlessness.
So the contrast to righteousness is lawlessness. If you are born of God, then you will practice righteousness. But if you are practicing lawlessness, John says you are born of the devil. Vs.8, “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” How do you know a child of the devil? Just as a Christian will exhibit the character of Christ, an unbeliever will exhibit the character of Satan. He has the same nature as the devil. He has submitted his will to the devil. He is controlled by the theology of the world. I’m not talking about demon possession. I’m talking about rejecting the word of God for a lie of Satan. I’m talking about rebelling against the will of God and doing your own will. Being hateful, selfish, lying, cheating, immoral, etc, all which are the works of darkness.
The good news is though that according to the last half of vs 8, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Notice how vs8 is an elaboration of vs.5, “He appeared in order to take away sins.” And now John says, He appeared to destroy the works of the devil. There is a progression there. His intercessory work has made it possible for us to overcome the evil one. We are able to destroy the power of sin through the abiding presence of the Spirit of God in us. John will go on to say in 1John 4:4, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
I want to tell you some good news, which is the gospel. If you truly give your heart to the Lord and are born again, sin shall no longer have dominion over you. You that are addicted to drugs, you can be set free. You can destroy the works of Satan. You that are living a life ravaged by alcohol, God can free you from it and restore your life. You that have been suffering from pornography, or from hatred, or jealousy or from stealing or immorality, or any sin, no matter how grievous it may be, Christ has appeared to break the power of sin in your life. You can be set free, to live a new life in Christ. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil and set you free. The work of the devil is to make sin a snare which will capture you and destroy you. But Christ can destroy sin’s power, if you will come to Him and ask Him to save you. Many of us here today are a living testimony to the power of God to set one free from sin. Many of us lived lives previously in addiction, in immorality, in rebellion towards God and were trapped in our sin, destroying our lives, and we stand here today set free by the death of Jesus Christ and faith in Him. We are not perfect yet, but we have been set free from the power of sin. And you can be as well.
If you will be born again, you can be set free. John says in the next verse, 9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” When you are born again, the Spirit of God abides in you. The tenses here in this verse are the same as the previous verses. You cannot live in habitual sin. Jesus will break that habit. He will change your heart. He will transform you into a child of God and no longer will you be a child of the devil. Consequently, like father like son. As God is righteous, we practice righteousness.
This seed of God abiding in us is authored by the Holy Spirit, and it is the Word of God. 1 Peter 1:23 “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” You cannot separate the work of the Holy Spirit from the word of God. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth. He implants the word of God in our hearts, which produces the fruit of righteousness. James says it this way in James 1:18 “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”
The obvious conclusion then to John’s argument in this section comes in vs.10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” Well, that’s the test of our relationship with God. Do we practice righteousness? Do we love our brother? Do we love God by being obedient to His will? John says it’s obvious to others what the condition of your heart is. But even if you are skillful at hiding your sin from others, God knows your heart. He knows those that are His children. Not those that are religious. Not those that are good people on some superficial level or another. But those that have been born again by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and have a changed heart and a new nature.
I trust that you will examine yourself today and honestly look at the evidence for your salvation. Don’t leave your eternal destiny to chance. Don’t continue to waste this life being mired in the muck and mud of sin, which will destroy you. Christ came to deliver us from sin, and destroy the works of the devil. You can know that freedom and forgiveness in Christ today if you will just call on Him in faith and confess that you are a sinner and need to be changed. He will save you. He will not turn away from your call if you call upon Him today. Do it today.