The Wonderful Word ‘If’

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1John 2:1-2.

What a powerful and wonderful promise above is the word ‘if’. Such a small word, and yet with such profound implications.

Now, to imagine that one could conceivably live a sin-free life is almost unimaginable by most in the church-world. Most expect to sin, to fail in some way morally. “Are we not human?”, they may say- “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” But are these expectations to failure and defeat necessarily true? Is it that we have to sin, that we have to, as a matter of course, fail God, others, or ourselves morally? And what of the opposite as implied here by the apostle John’s word, “if”- does that not contradict such expectations to failure? 

To even imply as this text clearly does, that we don’t have to sin another day, that we may attain to a moral perfection, a sinless perfection, is strongly opposed by many who, see their own experiences of failure or their own unwillingness to repent of some favored sin. Some may oppose such an implication on some defeatist and delimited view of humanity on doctrinal grounds. “Well, in our church we understand that people are fundamentally flawed, and morally corrupt, and it’s only by God’s grace that such sinners as we can be saved.”

What is John in this text or epistle saying? And, what is it that causes folk, often times with anger, to oppose the very notion of sinlessness? Finally, how can these things as rightly understood be applied in order to yield practical results?

What is this text saying?

Three things:

1. The purpose of what John is writing is that one would not sin. That we ‘sin not’. It couldn’t be more clear than this. Yet, is John coming at them as an Arminian, or a Pelagian, demanding that they of their own will perform something which is quite impossible when the mind is confronted with such a demand? This will be answered in due course. Suffice it to say, John is not throwing at them the law, nor demanding of them works to perform. But what his whole point in writing to the Church is that we need not sin- ever again.

2. That if we sin… Note the word ‘if’… The word ‘if’ here directly implies that we need not sin, ever again. It denotes that sin is not a foregone conclusion. This directly contradicts the commonly held notion that, “We all sin, brother. As long as we’re in the body, we’ll struggle with our sin-nature, and eventually fall.”- or, “We sin everyday, brother. If not in action, we all sin in our minds.”- Really? John chose the wrong word here, then. He should have said, “And when any man sins…” Also, he should never have tormented us with a command that we could never fulfill, that being his entire purpose for writing to us this epistle, that we would not sin! Is he asking us to sprout wings and fly? Indeed. It’s high-time for us to cease accepting false-notions which lead to defeatist habits, and encourages immorality and failure in the Church! Let the word ‘if’ mean exactly what it says! Allow God’s Word to undermine the powerful lies we’ve believed for far too long.

3. That [again] if- we sin, we have an advocate with the Father. This word ‘if’ is a swinging door- not only does it promote the possibility of a sinless perfection in Christ, but it also provides a covering of mercy should we in fact sin. The old-time holiness movement types, the Wesleyans or Methodists and the original Pentecostals would promote false ideas that basically said, “O.K., now that you’re saved and have been born again, you cannot sin or else you need to get saved all over again, because you’ve lost your salvation…” – this is a false and heinous belief!  No. We have an advocate with the Father. Jesus Christ is that for us, the Greek word for ‘advocate’ meaning one who stands beside us, in defense and support of us before or in the presence of the Father. Not only so, but Christ is the propitiation for our sins, this word literally meaningmercy seat ! Christ, as did the mercy seat of old which laid atop the ark of the covenant (Heb 9:4-5) covers the law, or table of commandments, which stood so as to condemn us. Every symbol of Israel’s disobedience and rebellion against God was covered over by the mercy seat, and Christ does that for us today.

Why do folk so often oppose the very notion of sinlessness?

We already noted that the reasons could include either a personal proclivity toward a favored sin, a “pet sin”- as we may say; or else, it could be an age-old tradition or bad theology based on defeatist philosophies of human inability and incorrect doctrines on moral depravity.

Concerning a personal impenitence toward a particular sin, it would be in a hardened heart that someone would (sometimes vehemently) oppose the concept of sinlessness. One would think that the possibility of living a sinless life would be extremely appealing, even liberating, nothing short of good news! However, this is often far from the case.

To such it may be said, if you want anything to do with the Lord Jesus Christ, one can’t have it both ways- to have Christ, and to also keep our sin. What drew us to Christ to begin with? Wasn’t it in part the promise of freedom from things that we were once ashamed of, and in bondage to? Wasn’t it the promise of the forgiveness of sins, no matter how bad they were, no matter how wrong and morally corrupt we were, that we’d be forgiven and cleansed from those things? Indeed. Many times we literally forget that we were once purged from our old sins, having been enticed back into things we’ve perhaps repented of (2Tim 2:26; 2Pet 1:9; 2:20). There is such a hardening of the heart in favor of self-gratifying deeds which are more fitting of one who doesn’t even know the Lord, than one who chooses to be called ‘Christian’.

Be it understood that these things are not said so as to condemn anyone. It is a perilous journey that we are on, certainly. And this one considers himself, knowing his own frame that it is but dust (Ga 6:1; Ps 103:14). We are not here discussing whether one can ‘lose his/her salvation’ or not, nor are we threatening the fiery retribution of God on anyone. God loves us, and His grace and mercy cover a multitude of sins. There is also now no condemnation upon us who are in Christ (Rom 8:1). But as believers, how long are we going to follow a lie- that we’re sinners (saved by grace, as is said), and that we have a sin-nature, etc? As long as we view ourselves as sinners we’re going to sin. And as long as we fail to realize just how good and satisfying God is, His presence, His manifest glory, we’ll continue to hunger and hanker after the things of this world.

More often than not, it’s not that there’s an unwillingness to repent of a given sin, but that there’s bad theology involved beclouding one’s mind, and keeping alive what is actually dead and crucified with Christ. For example, St. Augustine (354-430 C.E.) converted to Christianity, however he carried with him some of the beliefs he held onto as a Manichean. This group held, as was indicative of most Gnostics, the view that the spirit was good, but that the physical body was evil, that the material world itself was evil. This came into Christianity through Augustine as teachings that all mankind inherits from Adam due to the Original Sin a sinful nature. Infant baptism and the idea that one was ‘born a sinner’ arose from these false teachings.

These and similar teachings passed down to us today imply that one cannot help but sin. Maybe we could be free from ‘habitual sin’, but sin itself cannot be entirely avoided, as after all it’s one’s nature to do so. Yet, didn’t Christ take our sins, and our very flesh to the cross with Him, and died with these things in His body (Rom 6:6-7; 8:3-4; Ga 2:20)?

Many, too, will point to John’s words in this very epistle as if they contradict the idea of a state of sinlessness:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1Jn 1:8.

Say they, “Are you saying, brother, that you’re without sin?”, looking at you with baited breath, expecting to catch you in a quandary.

However, the above passage- if interpreted as if to deny sinlessness contradicts at least three other things said by the same author, namely that:

1. We may be cleansed from all sin and unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus, as we confess (1:7, 9);

2. His stated intention in writing this very epistle was so that we would not sin (2:1); and-

3. That whether or not one sins is a matter of if and not when one does so, meaning that the act or state of sinfulness is not a definite, not a forgone conclusion (2:2).

These three things above contradict that faulty interpretation of 1John 1:8. The correct view being simply that if one denies that they have ever sinned, excluding themselves from the need for a Savior and His work of atonement, or that if one does sin, that if they at that point deny their guiltiness before God or themselves, they are self-deluded.

But wait a minute! What if one were more inclined toward an Arminian view, and said- yeah, we don’t have to sin, and there’s no excuse, so “Knock it off!”- You had better not sin anymore! Is that what is being said here? No. To simply state that sin is bad (and it is), and so stop doing it- is that enough? No. This is the law, and it’s all too often mixed with grace. “Oh, we don’t believe in the law, we’re believers in God’s grace- but, if you’re doing certain things, you better quit it!” That’s the law, no matter how it’s dressed up in Christian garb and terminology. The apostle Paul said,

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. – Rom 7:21.

We know from our reading of Romans 7 and other texts that the law was given simply to not only point out our sin, but also to show our utter inability to keep the law in ourselves. To say, “Don’t commit this, and don’t commit that!” is to present the law- and the law is no longer ours to try and keep- as the law was nailed to the cross with Christ (Eph 2:13-17; Col 2:13-14). But didn’t John write his very epistle to the intent that we would not sin? Yes- and here we are led to our final point.

How can we understand these things rightly so as to see practical results in our lives?

While the apostle John wrote his first epistle so that one would not sin, did he present before us the law by stating this? Was that his point? No. While he states his intent in writing his epistle, the answer to the ‘sin question’ is also addressed. Had it not been addressed, he would be merely presenting the law, as so many do in the Church today. But what does he say?

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. – 1Jn 3:4-10.

There is much here, but we will address it as succinct as possible:

First, sin is here defined for us, not as a physiological phenomenon with which one is born, as some kind of naturalistic fatalism, but as a willful transgressing of the moral law of God. John is not here concerned with the Mosaic law, as many wrongly interpret, but the Lord’s commands to love God and others (as in Mt 22:37-40). The moral law of God is based on love, selfless and disinterested benevolence toward All. The opposite to this, and to infringe in one area is to transgress the whole [spirit of the] law (Jas 2:10). The Mosaic law with it’s Ten Commandments were based on the moral law of God, which in turn is based on love. Therefore to knowingly act in thought or deed in a selfish or self-gratifying manner contrary to our sense of moral obligation toward God and others, is to sin.

Second, the very purpose of Christ as manifesting in the world was to take away our sins, stating that in Him is no sin. Therefore, the Way is now made known: when we manifest Christ in the world, we too, are without sin. The apostle Paul states the same thing:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Rom 7:24-25a.

Directly after stating the losing struggle of trying to keep the law, in frustration he exclaims what he does above, but directly afterward states the answer. Many folk seem to forget v.25a. It’s often just glossed over. If we seek a state of sinlessness, it’s not in ourselves, but in Christ.

When did he take away our sins? Was it when we “got saved”? Or, was it after we tried really hard to be good boys and girls? No. But when He died on the cross, we were in Him, and died with Him, co-crucified with Christ:

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. – Rom 6:6-7.

He was manifest to take our sins away, which He did when He died on the cross with us in Him. When we reckon ourselves to be indeed dead unto sin, and alive unto God in His resurrection (Rom 6:11), we will practically see His sinlessness manifest in our lives.

Third, in our abiding in Christ, we do not sin. To abide means what? The Greek word μένω – meno, is here used, which means,

1) to remain, abide:

In reference to place- to sojourn, tarry; not to depart; to continue to be present; to be held, kept, continually.

In reference to time- to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure; of persons, to survive, live.

In reference to state or condition – to remain as one, not to become another or different.

2) to wait for, await one. (Thayer’s Greek Definitions).

Of the various definitions above, they may each apply in different ways, however the one emphasized in the color blue seems to be the most deepest mystically, referencing as it does the divine nature of which we partake (2Pet 1:4). To abide in Christ then is to remain as One, as united with Him, in Him- and even as Him. The moment one becomes another or different than God, different than Christ, then there is the perception of separation. What Christ did, and Who Christ is, as very God, becomes something ‘out there’, distant and unattainable, and the efficacy of our Oneness in the divine nature is not realized.

Thus it takes a conscious effort on a daily, even moment by moment basis to remain in Him, though we are placed in Him forever by God (even before the world began)- but it’s not a question of position or acceptance with God, these being forever settled by God in Christ, but it’s a matter of daily renewing our minds according to the fact and reality of these things (2Cor 4:16; Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10).

Fourth and finally, that which is born of God does not commit sin, and whosoever is born of God does not commit sin- why? Because His seed remains in him or her. We have the divine nature within us! The divine nature is incapable of sinning. God cannot sin, nor can He even be tempted to sin (Jas 1:13). Whereas whosoever sins is ‘of the devil’- as that is of an entirely different order. Many can read this text in John’s first epistle under a spirit of condemnation, feeling that because they sometimes fail God morally, that they’re of the devil, and perhaps not children of God. But this would be a misunderstanding of the text. Also, many try and alter the text so as to render it ‘friendly’ toward a ‘morally challenged’ Christian. This they do by differentiating between practicing sin v.s. an occasional sin. But the text doesn’t make such distinctions. We should let this and similar texts have their full weight and strength, so as to impact our carnal mind to the utmost.

What these verses are discussing is a difference of natures. God’s nature v.s. whatever is of the devil. While John here seems to make a distinction between children of God and children of the devil, we know that all are offspring of God, all are His children- whether they’re believers or unbelievers (Acts 17:28-29), whether they know it, accept it, or not. So what then? The carnal, fleshly or unrenewed mind is the enemy of God (Rom 8:5-9). The Greek word used in that text is εχθρα – Echthra, which means emnity or cause of emnity (Thayers). However, this comes from yet another Greek word, εχθρός – Echthros, from a primary word εχθω echthō (to hate); hateful (passively odious, or actively hostile); usually as a noun, an adversary (especially Satan): – enemy, foe.

Thus, to act out of the divine nature, which cannot sin- is to be sinless, whereas to sin is to act out of the carnal, fleshly, or unrenewed mind is to be alligned according to the Satanic principle of rebellion and odiousness- to be an adversary (literally, a ‘satan’), an enemy. And scripture says as much,

And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight – Col 1:21-22; and-

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. – Jas 4:4

It’s in one’s carnal, fleshly and unrenewed mind wherein they may potentially be ‘of the devil’. But, to act out of the divine nature is to be sinless, and righteous, because we are the righteousness of God in Christ.

The good news of the gospel then, is that we can be overcomers in every area of life, even in the troublesome struggles we’ve perhaps have faced for years. No longer do we have to expect defeat and failure, as if it were our lot in life, but can receive the generous and merciful grace of God, not only to find forgiveness for our sins, but to also overcome them in glorious victory. What is before us is a challenge to accept by faith what is already ours, already us in the divine nature, which is the holy state of sinless perfection- or, to continue vacillating between victory and defeat, by failing to recognize the ‘satanic principle’ within our own unrenewed minds, which in their pride either try to establish themselves as independent from God in doing the dead works of religion, or else seeks to operate in open rebellion and sin against God.

Thank God for the cross, where the flesh and carnality have been gloriously put to death, and in the resurrection we’ve come forth in Christ as brand new creatures, free, clean, holy and perfected in Him.

The word ‘if’ then is not just an escape clause just in case we fail- and thank God for that, but also it’s a challenge whereby we can dare to believe God for what religion has denied us all these years- freedom to be who we are in Christ.

 

Be blessed in His Name.

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