Category Archives: Interpretation

The Apparent Paradox of Sanctification – John MacArthur

 

Philippians 2:12-13

Code: B140702

by John MacArthur

How do you overcome sin and live the Christian life?  Is defeating sin something God does in you, or do you defeat it by obeying the commands of Scripture? In other words, is the Christian life an exercise in passive trust or active obedience? Is it all God’s doing, all the believer’s doing, or a combination of both? Those questions are as old as the church, and the varied answers have spawned movements and denominations.

This is not an unusual issue when dealing with spiritual truth. Many doctrines involve seeming paradoxes. For example, Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man; and while Scripture was written by human authors, God wrote every word. The gospel is offered to the whole world, yet applied only to the elect. God eternally secures believers’ salvation, yet they are commanded to persevere.

Christians who try to reconcile every doctrine in a humanly rational way are inevitably drawn to extremes. Seeking to remove all mystery and paradox, they emphasize one truth or aspect of God’s Word at the expense of another which seems to contradict it. This is precisely how many Christians have handled the doctrine of sanctification. One view of sanctification emphasizes God’s role to the virtual exclusion of the believer’s effort. This is often referred to as quietism. The opposite extreme is called pietism.

The quietist sees believers as passive in sanctification. A common maxim is, “Let go and let God.” Another is, “I can’t; God can.” Quietism tends to be mystical and subjective, focusing on personal feelings and experiences. A person who is utterly submitted to and dependent on God, they say, will be divinely protected from sin and led into faithful living. Trying to strive against sin or discipline oneself to produce good works is considered not only futile but unspiritual and counterproductive.

One champion of this view was the devout Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith, whose book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life has been read by millions. In it she writes,

What can be said about man’s part in this great work but that he must continually surrender himself and continually trust? But when we come to God’s side of the question, what is there that may not be said as to the manifold ways, in which He accomplishes the work entrusted to Him? It is here that the growing comes in. The lump of clay could never grow into a beautiful vessel if it stayed in the clay pit for thousands of years; but when it is put into the hands of a skilful potter it grows rapidly, under his fashioning, into the vessel he intends it to be. And in the same way the soul, abandoned to the working of the Heavenly Potter, is made into a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use. (Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1952, 32. Italics in original.)

How a Christian can fall into sin is a difficult question for the quietist to answer. They are forced to argue that such a person obviously misunderstands the matter of complete surrender, and has taken himself out of the hands of the heavenly Potter. But that flawed answer brings God’s sovereignty into question—if the Lord is completely in control, how can a believer take himself out of God’s hands?

Pietists, on the other hand, are typically aggressive in their pursuit of doctrinal and moral purity. Historically, this movement originated in seventeenth-century Germany as a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of many Protestant churches. To their credit, most pietists place strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, self-discipline, and practical Christianity. They emphasize such passages as “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1) and “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17).

Unfortunately, this unbalanced view often leads to an overemphasis on self-effort to the virtual exclusion of dependence on divine power. As you might expect, pietism frequently leads to legalism, moralism, self-righteousness, a judgmental spirit, pride, and hypocrisy.

The quietist says, “Do nothing.”

The pietist says, “Do everything.”

In Philippians 2:12–13, Paul presents the appropriate resolution between the two. He makes no effort to rationally harmonize the believer’s part and God’s part in sanctification. He is content with the paradox and simply states both truths, saying on the one hand, sanctification is of believers (Philippians 2:12), and on the other hand, it is of God (Philippians 2:13).

The truth is that sanctification is God’s work, but He performs it through the diligent self-discipline and righteous pursuits of His people, not in spite of them. God’s sovereign work does not absolve believers from the need for obedience; it means their obedience is itself a Spirit-empowered work of God.

Today there is an intense debate within the church about this vital issue. The stakes are high—your view of sanctification informs and directs how you understand your new nature in Christ, how you evangelize others, pursue godliness, govern your heart and mind, how you raise and discipline your children, and how you understand and follow God’s commands in Scripture. For pastors and church leaders, your position on this issue will determine how you preach and teach, how you give counsel to troubled hearts, and how you engage in church discipline.

Neither quietism nor pietism represents the biblical path of sanctification. Both are spiritual ditches to steer clear of—they will impede your spiritual progress, and potentially obstruct it altogether.

In the days ahead, we’re going to examine the model of sanctification Paul presents in Philippians 2, and explore the dual realities of God’s sovereign work and man’s responsibility.

 

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B140702
COPYRIGHT ©2014 Grace to You

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Sin and the Work of the Spirit – John MacArthur

 

Code: B140630

by John MacArthur

There is colossal confusion about what it means to be a Christian. Through mass communication the culture receives conflicting messages about what defines authentic Christianity. Cults, charismatic speakers, and criminally convicted church leaders only muddle the confusion on a grand scale.

What’s perhaps worse than confusing the culture is giving false confidence to professing Christians and false doubts to true believers. False confidence comes from a gospel of cheap grace where one can believe without any cost to themselves (contrary to Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-38). False doubts rise out of accusations of legalism and works-righteousness.

These problems are not new. Nearly as soon as the church began, counterfeit Christians brought confusion. The longest living apostle who witnessed counterfeits of every kind addressed these very issues under the inspiration of the Spirit.

The book of 1 John is about testing the authenticity of your faith. It’s about knowing what a true Christian’s life ought to look like, and carefully evaluating yourself according to the standard the apostle John spells out for his readers.

John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation. That’s particularly clear in the verses we’ve been discussing over the last few weeks (1 John 3:4-10).

And as we come to the end of this passage, John presents us with one more reason that sin and saving faith are incompatible. The first two focused on the nature of sin and the work of Christ; today we focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

Old Sin Versus New Birth

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. 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. (1 John 3:9-10)

The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.

The instrument by which the Spirit gives new birth to sinners is the Word of God. As the apostle Peter explained to the readers of his first letter,

You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)

The new birth is from imperishable seed, securing the believer’s salvation for eternity. It enlightens the mind so one can discern spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2:10, 13-14). It gives believers the mind of Christ so they can understand the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:16). It liberates and energizes the enslaved will, previously unable to obey God but now freely able and willing to do so (John 6:44, 65; Colossians 2:13).

The new birth signals the end of the sinner’s old life. Those who were hopelessly corrupt become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), buried with Him and raised unto a new life of righteousness (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:24). Therefore he states again that believers cannot practice sin because they are born of God.

God’s Work or My Work?

The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process). Paul’s language in Ephesians 2:4-6 is unmistakably clear in this regard:

God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Because unregenerate people are spiritually dead, they are unable to respond to divine truth. This doctrine of total depravity—better understood as the doctrine of total inability—does not mean that the unredeemed are as sinful as they could possibly be. Rather, it means that the fallen, sinful nature affects every area of life and renders them incapable of saving themselves. Thus the spiritually dead person needs to be made alive by God alone, through His Spirit. That same power energizes every aspect of Christian living (Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 2:12-13).

The Spirit-Empowered Result of Salvation

John concludes our passage with the summary statement of verse 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.”

There are only two groups of people in the world: “the children of God and the children of the devil.” The first exhibits God’s righteous character through obeying His law; the second exhibits Satan’s sinful character by disregarding the Word and habitually sinning. No matter what people may profess, or what past religious ritual or experience they may point to, the true nature of their faith ultimately shows itself in how they live.

The popular gospel today has no time for that truth. It only wants to drum up an emotional moment and affirm people’s salvation on the basis of that moment rather than on the evidence of a transformed life. But a no-repentance, no-holiness, no-submission, no-transformation gospel is the devil’s lie to give false security to damned people.

If you truly love the Lord, your life will evidence the authority of His Word, the righteousness of His Son, and the manifest work of His Spirit. If it doesn’t, then you have good reason to question whether you truly belong to Him.

 

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B140630
COPYRIGHT ©2014 Grace to You

Sin and the Work of Christ – John MacArthur

 

Code: B140626

by John MacArthur

What did Jesus set out to accomplish? Did His death and resurrection have any practical effect for this life, or was it all focused on eternity? Consider this: the holy Son of God set aside His glory, humbled Himself by taking the form of a man, lived a righteous life, and willingly surrendered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of others. Was all intended merely to forgive sin without removing it?

The apostle John wrote his first epistle to help his readers test the authenticity of their faith. These tests come down to examining whether Christ’s work has had its necessary effect on their lives. And in 1 John 3:5-8, he makes it clear that Christ’s work on our behalf ought to have a significant sanctifying impact in the lives of His people.

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

Christ’s Work on Our Behalf

Jesus came to earth “in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5). He came not only to pay the penalty for sin and provide forgiveness, but also to take sins away altogether. As a result of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, believers have been set apart from sin unto holiness. The lawlessness that once characterized their lives has been removed.

Therefore, it is inconsistent with His redeeming work on the cross for anyone who shares in the very life of Christ to continue in sin. In other words, because Christ died to sanctify the believer (2 Corinthians 5:21), to live sinfully is contrary to His work of breaking the dominion of sin in the believer’s life (cf. Romans 6:1-15).

The truth that Christ came to destroy sin is not merely a future hope; it is a present reality. John is not saying—as some have tried to infer—that believers will eventually be delivered from sin when they die, and in the meantime can be as sinful as they were before their conversion. On the contrary, while sanctification may be slow and gradual, Christ’s transforming work in salvation is immediate (Philippians 1:6).

At salvation believers experience a real cleansing of and separation from their sins. On a practical level, that separation continues as they become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Titus 2:11-14 summarizes well the present and future aspects of sanctification.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

So the one-time work of Christ on the cross initiates His ongoing work in our lives. But what fuels that ongoing work? What transformation takes place that enables us to overcome sin in this life?

Our New Nature in Christ

John concludes verse 5 with the phrase “in Him there is no sin.” Jesus Christ is the sinless One (2 Corinthians 5:21). This truth has immense practical ramifications. “If you know that He is righteous,” John wrote earlier in the epistle, “you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29). When God’s saving power is applied to a new believer, they are born again—they receive a new nature. And like a newborn baby, they embark on a life of learning to live in God’s kingdom.

Then in verse 6 the apostle describes the character of the person saved through the work of Jesus Christ. “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Abiding in Christ can be likened to dwelling in His kingdom, following His laws, and celebrating His victories. In short, the new nature draws one toward Christ and away from sin.

Years earlier Paul taught the same truth to the Roman believers.

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)

That description outlines key provisions of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:25-31), which Paul further elaborates:

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The emphasis of the apostle’s statements is on sanctification. True Christians have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:12-17), receive a new heart (Acts 16:14), complete forgiveness (Colossians 1:14), and a transformed life (Colossians 3:5-10)—all evidenced in their new ability to obey the law of God.

Sanctification and Assurance

John taught that “no one who sins” (1 John 3:6) can also abide in Christ. It is not that people who become Christians will never sin again (1 John 1:8), but that they will not live as they once did, because “no one who sins” consistently or habitually in the pattern of the unregenerate “has seen Him or knows Him” (3:6).

John further cautioned his readers to make sure no one deceived them concerning a correct understanding of sanctification. Despite any deceptive teaching to the contrary, only the one “who practices righteousness” can have any assurance that he “is righteous, just as [Jesus] is righteous” (1 John 3:7).

John makes the obvious conclusion that because “the Son of God appeared . . . to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), it is impossible and unthinkable that true believers would continue in devil-like behavior. Today Satan is still opposing the plans and people of God (1 Peter 5:8), but believers are no longer his children or under his rule. We who know and love Christ have been freed from the captivity of sin, and the apostle John—through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—says we must live accordingly.

So far we’ve seen that a lifestyle of sin is incompatible with saving faith because sin is lawlessness, and true believers have had that defiant, lawless heart replace with a heart of repentance. Today we’ve seen how Christ’s work not only forgives sin, but initiates the life-long process of sanctification. John has one final argument for why sin is incompatible with saving faith, and it focuses on the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. We’ll wrap up this series with that last point next time.

 

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B140626
COPYRIGHT ©2014 Grace to You

Lawless Christians? – John MacArthur

 

1 John 3:4

Code: B140624

by John MacArthur

Everyone sins, and everyone knows it. While it is true that fallen human nature minimizes or redefines sin, everyone knows they don’t meet the standard of perfection. Whether they call them “sins” or “mistakes,” everyone will admit to having lied, lusted, or lashed out in anger at some point in their lives—if not regularly.

That being the case, what is the difference between the sins of believers and unbelievers? When a believer sins, is it the same as when an unbeliever sins?

The Nature of Sin

The two primary biblical definitions of sin are “missing the mark” (hamartia) and “without righteousness” (adikia). At its core, sin is a transgression of God’s law; it is to think and behave as if there were no law. The apostle John emphasizes that lawless characteristic when he writes, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

John wrote his epistle to help believers test the authenticity of their faith (1 John 5:13). Unlike many today, John does not test saving faith on the basis of a signed card, a walk down the aisle, or even a prayer made in a moment of contrition. In the passage we’re considering in this series, he’s focused on the incompatibility of sin with saving faith, and he’s making three arguments for the holiness of believers.

John’s first argument is that sin is incompatible with the law of God. As we saw in 1 John 3:4, he explicitly equates sin with an attitude of lawlessness and rebellion against God (cf. Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21).

Diagnosing Unbelievers’ Sin

John’s description of sin allows for no exceptions or double standards. Everyone who habitually practices sin is living in an ongoing condition of lawlessness. That’s not to say that they’re sinning to the full extent of their depravity. The lawlessness John refers to is more of an attitude than an action. It’s not merely transgressing God’s law—it’s living with an indifference to the law, as if there was no law-Giver at all.

We must not underestimate the severity of the unrepentant sin that flows from unbelief. We can’t define sin in bits and pieces as individual acts alone. Of course each individual sin is a serious offense to God, but we also need to be able to recognize and biblically diagnose the profound lawlessness of the unredeemed heart.

Diagnosing Believers’ Sin

If you’re a Christian, you no longer have that dominant attitude of lawlessness. The truly penitent heart resolves to obey God’s law (Psalm 19:7-11), deny fleshly lusts (Romans 13:14), resist the world’s allurements (Titus 2:12), and willingly submits to the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ in all things. Those whom God has saved and transformed have traded slavery to sin for slavery to God, as Paul wrote:

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

That’s not to say believers never sin—no honest Christian would make that claim. But when we do give in to temptation, we experience godly sorrow, not an attitude that is cavalier and rebellious. The believer’s sin is not the product of a heart bent in defiant lawlessness.

Instead we’re heartbroken over transgressing God’s law. It’s the attitude David displays in Psalm 32 and 51, where he pleads for God’s mercy in the aftermath of grievous sin. We share the frustration with lingering sin that Paul expresses in Romans:

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (Romans 7:15, 18-20)

That penitent heartbreak comes from our love of God and His law. At salvation, each believer bows his knee to the lordship of Christ. It’s a commitment to obey Him, follow Him, and fulfill His law. The believer’s life is marked by willful, loving submission to God’s law in the pursuit of holiness. We understand that the law isn’t a system of works righteousness, or a legalistic set of outdated rules. It’s an expression of God’s holy character, and we join the refrain of Psalm 119, confessing “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).

Therefore, how could authentic believers live in open, unrepentant lawlessness? John says they can’t.

But the lawless nature of sin is only the first of three reasons John gives for his conclusion. Next time we’ll look at how sin is also incompatible with the work of Christ.

 

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B140624
COPYRIGHT ©2014 Grace to You

Wrong Answers to the Right Question – John MacArthur

 

1 John 3:4-10

Code: B140617

by John MacArthur

What does saving faith look like? Does it produce a life marked by increasing righteousness, holiness, and good fruit? Or is salvation a momentary event that has no lasting impact in the life of a Christian?

We’ve been considering those and other important questions in the face of popular theological trends that drive a wedge between salvation and sanctification. The heart of the issue is determining the biblical marks of authentic faith—how does a saved person live his or her life? To that end, we’ve focused our thoughts on the book of 1 John—specifically 1 John 3:4-10.

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and 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 sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 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. 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.

Right away, some key statements jump out at us. The first is found in verse 6, where the apostle John writes that “no one who abides in Him sins.” This theme echoes throughout the passage, and John expands on it in verse 9 with the words “because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin.” At face value, it appears John is saying that sin is impossible for believers.

Those are astounding statements, especially considering 1 John 1:8. There he writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And again in verse 10, he writes, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” In the short space of a couple chapters, John makes what seem to be very contradictory statements about the existence of sin in a believer’s life.

There have been several theological attempts to harmonize John’s apparent contradiction. Some make the case that the sin John refers to in chapter 3 is only mortal sin. In fact, that’s the view of the Catholic Church, which differentiates between venial (forgivable) and mortal sins. But that’s a false, unbiblical dichotomy. All sin carries with it the same consequences (Romans 6:23).

Others argue that John is only referring to willful, deliberate sin. The idea is that Christians don’t actively commit sin; they merely suffer it. But the New Testament never depicts believers as helpless victims of iniquity. On the contrary, it teaches that believers sin because they choose to yield to temptation (James 1:14-15).

At one extreme end of the discussion, perfectionists would assert that believers can gradually overcome sin until they become completely sinless. In that system, the Christian lives in a constant struggle with sin, regularly losing and gaining ground against its influence, until he eventually reaches sinless perfection or loses his salvation altogether.

At the opposite end of the debate you’ll find the antinomian view. The term antinomian comes from the Greek word for law (nomos), and it refers to people who live without regard for the law of God. Antinomians believe that sin in the life of the believer simply doesn’t matter, since every aspect of his or her life is covered by grace. That corrupt view—which Paul taught against in Romans 6:12-18—is still popular today.

Modern proponents of cheap grace and easy-believism have their own means of explaining of John’s apparent contradiction. Some say the apostle was exhorting lawless, misbehaving Christians to rededicate their lives to the Lord and move from immature, carnal behavior to spirituality. With that interpretation, they attempt to tone down the letter and make it less definitive or harsh. But their arguments cannot account for John’s clear purpose for writing the letter—“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). The dichotomy John presents is not mature faith versus immature faith, but rather a saving faith versus a non-saving one.

Still others miss the meaning and application of the passage due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of saving faith. They incorrectly believe that repentance is nothing more than a synonym for faith, and therefore does not refer to turning from sin. Turning from sin, they say, is unnecessary for salvation. Saving faith, then, is nothing more than mere intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel. Pleading with sinners to repent from sin is tantamount to asking them to contribute works to their own salvation. Hence, they accept that salvation may make no change at all in a person’s doctrine or behavior. Even a lifelong state of carnality is not sufficient reason to doubt someone’s salvation.

All those popular views and interpretations attempt to harmonize the apparent contradiction in 1 John. And not one of them gets it right.

The true key to understanding John’s apparent contradiction is Greek grammar. In the passage above, John refers to sin in the present tense, indicating continuous, habitual action. In other words, John is not referring to occasional acts of sin, but to established and continual patterns of sinful behavior. Believers will sometimes sin (Romans 7:14-25)—even willfully—but they will not and cannot sin habitually and persistently as a way of life (cf. Romans 6:4-14; Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 2:10).

When the Holy Spirit draws sinners to God, regenerates them, and grants them eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, they are recreated (2 Corinthians 5:17). The nature of the new creature in Christ is to obey the Word, follow Christ, reject the temptations of the world, and display the fruits of righteousness in their lives (Romans 8:6; Philippians 3:9; Colossians 3:2). While the old nature is still present, there is a new desire, interest, and capacity to love and obey the Lord that wasn’t there before.

John’s apparent contradiction is no contradiction at all. In chapter one, he refutes false teachers who claim to have advanced beyond any struggle with sin (1 John 1:8-10). He goes on in chapter two to make it clear that if someone does not obey Christ’s commands (2:3) and live righteously (e.g., demonstrate love [2:9-10]), he is not a believer. In our passage from chapter three, the apostle reinforces the tests of faith he has already established. In doing so, he further refutes false teachers who minimize or deny the significance of sin. His teaching is just as vital today in the face of similar false teaching. Jesus sacrificed Himself not only to perfect people in the future, but to purify them in the present (Ephesians 5:25-27). Minimizing sin in the church goes against the very work of Christ.

In short, John’s point is that a lifestyle of sin is incompatible with true, saving faith. The life of the believer cannot be marked by patterns of unbroken, unrepentant sin. But John doesn’t leave us with that simple truth. He goes on in the passage to provide three reasons this reality is critical to understand.

We’ll look at the first one next time.

 

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John.)


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B140617
COPYRIGHT ©2014 Grace to You