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1 John 3: 4 to 12 Lawlessness versus Righteousness

Sin versus Rightousness

1 John 3:4  Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5  And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6  Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. 7  Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8  He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9  Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 10  In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. 11 Nor this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous.

I left each of us, including me, the message last time at this point: Live Holy, Humble lives. Or as we can now say having learned this lesson from John, Through the Hope that comes from knowing Him, live Holy, Humble, Pure and Righteous lives, as children of the Father, as guided by the Holy Spirit.

I look at this and ask – how am I doing? Well, the answer would be – it depends. On what does it depend? It depends on whether I am in constant prayer and communication with God, or just living my life; the emphasis on "my". The latter is to my chagrin, the way we quickly lapse. I heard a person say once about not being "that spiritual". But the more I reflect on these passages, the more I realise that one has to be "more spiritual" to be on a pathway that represents the life that God actually wants. I take it to mean that "more spiritual" in this context is that of reading God’s Word, listening to God open His Word through the Holy Spirit within, and by us doing His will. The most amazing part of all of this is this. The Holy Spirit dwells within us! Tell me, those who drive like Jehu! How do you drive when the police are behind you? And if you don’t know how Jehu drives, turn to 2 Kings 9:20 sometime at your leisure! I suspect that you are like me – cautiously, and within the speed limit, both hands on the wheel, the phone not at the ear (not that I use the phone when I drive). So why is it when a mere man of authority is driving behind us, do we take care to drive within regulations, but when God dwells within we often don’t seem to care? Perhaps, it is because he is invisible to the human eye, and can be blocked to the human senses to a point, but, God, in His great mercy, gave all who belong to Him a conscience, and that conscience, will bring us to hear His voice and recognise our wrong. However, that conscience can be desensitised. And woe to us when that happens. So, our text this morning leads us into the discussion of sin, and righteousness. This portion of scripture is not exactly easy, as it is the context in which it sits that explains the meaning of these verses. I will at times stray away from the text here, to a more general discussion. I ask for your tolerance in this.

This section of 1 John is about sin and righteousness. Sin is manifest in many ways. To the modern world, sin has grades of badness. For example the notion that looking at a woman with lust in the heart – whether or not she knows it, in God’s eye is sin. In the modern world, I doubt if the word ‘wrong’ is ever used anymore in this context. Another example is that of murder. I can kill in the heat of the moment and perhaps go to jail for four years, or plan a murder and maybe get fifteen. But, what does God say - Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother - the last verse of our text today. It is not murder, here, nor lust, it is failing to love one’s brother that can make one separate from God. I use the word ‘can’ here, as I just mentioned, these verses are more complex, and one has to distinguish between habitual sin of the unsaved from backsliding sin of the believer. However, in looking at what sin is, God has no grade, no shades from black to white. God has black, or white, there is sin, or there is righteousness. We cannot be a little righteous, or a little sinful. Although I have just said it, this is not entirely right - in one context only. However, in all other contexts, it is right. So, for the sake of the argument, we can turn to Genesis 18:20 to read a context of measuring sin.  And the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,  "I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know." God is deciding on the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and describes very grave sin. He is going to check it out to determine the gravity. However, this does not create a hierarchy though, as any list of sins that can be found in the New Testament shows us that hierarchy is not there at all. Take for example Romans 1:29-32

29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil–mindedness; they are whisperers, 30  backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31  undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32  who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Note the last verse – deserving of death, which is why we need to look for a sacrifice that God finds acceptable, we will come back to this. However, just look at these sins: ‘Full of envy’ – deserving of death, ‘full of strife’ – deserving of death and so on. In the end times, the punishment will be the same, death, that is total and complete separation from God, and eternity in Hell. People don’t like to talk of Hell. Many churches today preach everything but Hell, some even deny Hell exists using the argument that a loving God would never have a Hell. These people have a point, God would rather not punish the unrighteous into Hell. His love is so vast He truly wants all to be in Heaven when that time comes. But this is the point - He is a righteous God, and to be Righteous, one must have a place for sin, and that place is completely separate from righteousness. We need to not only know these things, but I believe that we must be willing to teach, and acknowledge our belief in these things. God hates sin. For those who are not righteous, and therefore have not taken up the offer God has given to all as found in John 3:16, Hell awaits, and with it everlasting punishment, a lake of fire, and darkness. I add here, that the notion of the devil ruling over hell, a hot but OK place, with horns and a tail, and trident in his hand is pure folly.

John certainly appears to have hell on his mind when he wrote this passage. Otherwise, why be so strident about ensuring the reader understands that righteousness must rule in our hearts, to the point of loving one’s brother no matter their state, and this love can only come through the Saviour, a Saviour being someone who has not sinned, ever. A good person cannot be a saviour. Even the best amongst us has sinned. A perfect man can be saviour, and there has only been one of them, the Son of Man, the Son of God. And yes, I suspect that many of you know this a good deal better than I, but it still seems to be a fact well worth repeating, in a world that has deidentified God, to a small, not particularly awe inspiring figure who can do what would amount to no more than magical tricks. We must shout from the roof tops that our God is so great words cannot describe, so great that God’s best earthly friend Moses could only see His back, so great He gave His Son to be our sacrifice, and our salvation.

So far we have established that sin is sin, no ifs no buts, if it does not fit with God’s way, if God describes it as sin, then, despite the 21st century and our so called enlightenment, it is still sin. So many in the church (small ‘c’ church that is) believe that the church should move into the 21st century with big changes, some to the point of embracing Islam as a place for reconciliation. A strange thought because Islam embraces one object only, that of converting the whole world to its false beliefs, or destroying those who will not change.

The opening verse of the text today bears a little scrutiny. I point to the word lawlessness. I thought that the law was defunct, no longer part of our lives, for are we not saved by grace? Galatians 5:18 states "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." Roman’s also has both this point and the answer to it:

Romans 3:19  Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22  even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all  who believe. For there is no difference; 23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25  whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,

We are not saved through works, which is keeping of the law, but these verses do state that the law will enable us to see what sin is, and the law will enable us to see why we cannot be righteous on our own back. These verses state rather, that through the blood of Christ comes redemption, and that blood was shed for what – propitiation, an act that gave us Salvation, through the work of God, not the work of man. And what is propitiation? A propitiation is a means by which justice is satisfied, God’s wrath is averted, and mercy can be shown on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice.[1] Sacrifice is something done in order to cover sin. Sin is only seen through the knowledge that a law gives us. If there are no laws there is no sin. However, the Ten Commandments still stand. God has not changed his mind, Thou shalt not covert is still a sin. It is still an element of lawlessness. Many of the Levitical laws still stand, as standards, as practice that are useful to know. They are purely there now to enable us to see why Jesus Christ had to die for our sins, why salvation comes through the one perfect sacrifice, and the standards that God has in His Word. Another point is worth raising here. Lawlessness to the Jew would tend to mean the law as taught in the Pentateuch. However, if we reflect back on the passage I read earlier about Sodom and Gomorrah, you will know that this occurred before the Law, but is speaks about lawless lives. Being Lawless, in its complete essence is living apart from God, in our own ways for our own purposes. In this passage, and as we shall see further, the verse is talking of habitual sin, the unsaved. If I say that I have accepted Christ as Saviour, and live a life of habitual sin, you would have no lack of authority to point out to me that through my lifestyle, my statement of faith appears to be a lie. This is the key point of the passage, the saved live are different lives, though we are not perfect.

However the passage leads to another statement that leaves one in total awe, one that makes the "we are not perfect" excuse, very light on if we use it as our insurance for sinning. John states that: Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin! How is this possible? Our sin is covered, the one sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath, we were made righteous, but we don’t sin? How can that be? 1 John 1: 10 says "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." The Bible does not contradict itself, therefore this verse is not talking of individual sins within our day to day life. The Bible always explains itself, though we may be blind to its explanation, however, in listening to others, and here we can look at verse 12 of chapter 1 for an explanation. This verse says: "I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake." The clue here is the term little children. We are the children of God. As such, our lifestyle will be one of loving God, and following His way through His Word. Our lifestyle will not be habitual sin, though it will have failures, as does that of a child. Otherwise the Bible would not tell us to confess our sins, to ask for forgiveness of sin. This is the difference between being a child of God, and one of lawlessness; the former does not live a sin filled life, and they acknowledge their sins if they lapse, and ask for forgiveness. Galatians also makes this point of how one must abide in Him, though this verse specifically is referring to the Holy Spirit (Jeff preached on this last week). Galatians 5:22-25 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self–control. Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. What Jeff noted is worth repeating today in the context of our reading. Living under the law would never bring about the fruit of the Spirit in its fullest sense. And secondly, the last verse notes that we can live in the Spirit, but our walk may not be there. In other words, these two texts complement each other in that both note the Christian is not always living according to the Spirit that convicted him or her in the first place. However, walking in the Spirit will take us away from sin, and bring us to a life where sin does not happen. It must be possible, otherwise John would not have written it. Live Holy, Humble, Righteous lives is not just a throw away line, but oh the discipline, the total handover of our lives to God! Even Paul found it hard and was willing to state it. But let that not be an excuse for us not to try, through letting go of our own strength, and allowing God to do His work within us. What a thought!

At this juncture I would like to take a moment to digress. My digression is in the context of the middle portion of the passage, starting in the middle of verse 8 & p – (1 John 3) For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.  Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

To understand this passage perhaps we need the word propitiation here as well in the discussion How can the Son of God destroy the works of the devil, and also enable our sins to be covered to the point of being remembered no more? What did the Son of God have that nothing else had, despite 2000 years of sacrifice? He was the perfect sacrifice, without sin. His blood that was shed for the sin of all peoples, was perfect blood. He lived for thirty three years or so, in this world, surrounded at times by the worst kind of people, yet, did not sin. He eats with the publican, he sailed in storms, he lived in the open, summer and winter – with no running water, nor refrigerator, but did not sin. Who amongst us does not sin when the fridge dies in the middle of a heat wave? And so back to Christ the perfect sacrifice in an imperfect world. Hebrews chapter 9:14  says it all "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" His blood will purge your conscience from dead works, His blood can get you to a holy state, propitiation comes with it sonship with God.

Now, a digression point, as it is something that has always been a question in my mind, though, I add, may not be in yours! However, I think that the point has to be made here. The blood is what cleanses us from sin. But how does blood cleanse? We pour blood over something, and it does not become white as snow. It is first red, then as the haemoglobin oxidises it becomes a rusty brown. Here I borrow from two authors who have written on the subject, Paul Brandt and Philip Yancey. We are little children, but we are also something else. I am sure we all know that we are the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). God did not give us this word picture unknowingly, though for the ancient believers of John’s times, the word picture was not as clear as it is today with our current medical knowledge. How does the body work? It has millions of cells, each with a role, just as each of us is a "cell" as it were in the Body of Christ, and we too with a role, and some, pastors, and some teachers, as in Ephesians 4:11. How does the body (human body) cleanse itself of all the bad stuff? Through the blood that washes over every cell. How does Christ’s blood cleanse us from all sin? By washing all over us as blood does that cell. An amazing piece of medical science, known only for the past few hundred years.

So with that analogy in mind, it brought to me the thought that at times blood vessels get blocked, restricted, and the cell, though in the body does not leave the body, it is not doing so well, in fact it can infect those around it, it can poison its neighbours. How too sin in our lives can do the same, it can restrict our usefulness, we can become poison to our fellowship, cause strife and division. We need to be back in full sync with the Body of Christ, allowing ourselves to be nourished, and directed, and filled with the Holy Spirit, which will enable us to work as we should.

Let us return to the passage and verse 7  "Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous". Now let us read a passage from our previous series, that in Philippians chapter 3-19 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.  For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame––who set their mind on earthly things." God works in mysterious way. I preached on the latter verse, and now read in the passage for this week, "let no-one deceive you". God has a message for me I assume to give me both verses!

John and Paul were all well aware of deceivers. Paul exhorts the people to follow his example, and walk with those who have a pattern, that is, a pattern of holy living, according to the Word. John is stating that the pattern to follow is that of the righteous, those born of God, those who you can see are abiding in God. And he gives one excellent example of this, look at the person and their relationship with their brother (not the relationship the brother may have with them). The latter may be somewhat different. So, how does the person talk about, feel about, pray about, their brother. Perhaps you do not have a brother, I am fortunate in having two, but in the Word, in this context brother means sister, so sisterly relationships have the same scrutiny, or that of each one of our spiritual brothers. I hesitate to say this, but will, and that is all your relationships are built in this sentence, you can’t point to just one of the relationships and say – that one is great, when all others are total shipwrecks. So, both John and Paul are saying "don’t let anyone deceive you into thinking that they are righteous and therefore someone to be mentored by?" Check their relationships out. If they are having problems, pray for them. Maybe they are living in the Spirit, but not walking in the Spirit, or maybe they are not righteous at all, thereby not saved by Grace, through the blood of Christ. Look to your creator, through the Holy Spirit, your eyes will be open to the deceiver.

So far we have looked at sin, we have looked at how God has made the sinful righteous, and we have noted that the key is the blood of the Lamb, and being cleansed by this. We have noted that one must be on one’s guard against deceivers, and as we look at the passage we note that sin, and righteousness, the two opposing forces are repeated a number of times. John clearly points out the origin of righteousness as being of God, and sin as being of the devil. In the few minutes that remain, let us now look at the last passage (versus 11-12): "For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous."

John is summing up his previous paragraph emphasising sin, righteousness, and loving one’s brother. Verse 11 is an upfront statement, nothing more than black and white: "we should love one another". The statement "Love one another" is fraught with difficulties for some of us at least, like me. For example, I may feel offended when my Mother calls me fat! The question is though, is feeling offended loving one another? or bringing in my own self centred view on the world, that I may be fat, but no-one should mention it! My Mother after all has my best interest at heart, it is not doing my health any good to be fat. She may be blunt, and even tactless in the statement, but should that allow me to stop loving, even for a second. Because, I put to you, when we adopt the attitude of being offended, love is put on hold. Maybe for a second, an hour, day or even years, but it is put on hold. John's statement does not have an exit line, a place for pause and recommence when we feel like it. The statement is bold, and absolute.

How about loving that person, who always ignores me, never makes eye contact, and won’t speak to me, not that I have spoken to them? They may be a part of the Body of Christ, therefore the statement "love one another" is even more paramount, but him, or her? How can I love them? These are difficulties that we ourselves cannot answer, nor work out. But if we are abiding in Him, if we are walking in the Spirit, then these questions need not be asked, as the fruit of the Spirit allows us to love the most unlovable. Not a particularly human concept is it?

John then makes a very odd statement in the context of this passage (in one way), he says: "not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother". Who is the reference, who is the negative standard, the standard not to meet? Cain and Abel, the world’s first brothers. John goes to the very first brotherly breakdown. They had each other, and if my reading of that portion of Genesis is correct, at that stage no other family except the parents. And how did Cain show his brother his love. Well, as we all know, he didn’t. He got jealous instead. God liked Abel’s sacrifice more so that Cain’s. And do we do as Cain did. Did he go to God, request forgiveness, and ask how to make amends, learn about acceptable sacrifice and then do same? Not in the least, he killed his brother in a jealous rage, hid the body, and lied to God. Maybe we don’t literally murder, but is this not us, from time to time at least, even in the smallest of ways. Who me? And John then reminds us the difference between the two brothers, one had evil works, the other righteous works. Yes, works don’t save us, but works, that which we are seen doing on a day to day basis, sometimes these are righteous, sometimes evil, but God wants only righteous. To do this we are to be born of God, receive salvation through the blood of the Lamb, accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, Then we need to abide in Him, for through abiding in Him we remain sin free.

In conclusion, these verses are delineating the difference between the unsaved and God’s righteousness. They have a major challenge for each of us, with the simple statement "Whoever has been born of God does not sin" and we have noted that to understand these passages we must read them in context as to what else the scripture has to say, and such verses are difficult. However, God gives us a starting point, a simple, but most difficult statement, "Love one another". As we learn to do this at all times, rather than whenever it suits us, then our challenge, that of living live Holy, Humble, Pure and Righteous lives, becomes doable. However, without the love that comes from abiding in the Father, walking in the Spirit so the fruit of the Holy Spirit will become evident, then the exhortation to live holy, humble, pure, and righteous lives are just words on a page.

[1] MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments . Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

Stephen B Simon (11 Jan 2009 CCC)
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