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Monday, August 27, 2012 | Comments (10)

by John MacArthur

The tragic, inescapable reality of the believer’s life is that he or she will never totally and finally conquer sin. The Lord has transformed us, replaced our hearts, and reoriented our lives, but we still can’t completely escape the grip of sin.

The apostle John recognizes, of course, that believers do fail and fall into sin. As a matter of fact, he began the epistle with a series of statements underscoring the truth that no one can claim any degree of perfection in this life: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). When we sin, however, Christ is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1) as well as the all-sufficient sacrifice who has paid the price of our sin (1 John 2:2).

Therefore, we can know true assurance, despite the sinful and fleshly tendencies we all struggle with. Read Paul’s testimony in Romans 7 about his own frustrating battle to overcome the sin that remains in each one of us as long as we inhabit fallen flesh. We all sin all the time, and we wage the very same struggle Paul describes in Romans 7:14-24. But notice that Paul ends that discussion with a celebration of his own assurance: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). From there, he devotes the entirety of Romans 8 to a discourse about the believer's security in the Spirit.

How can believers know that kind of assurance, even while being aware of their own sinfulness?

First, it’s vital to understand that Scripture expressly refutes all forms of perfectionism. Even when the apostle John writes, “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” (1 John 3:9), he is clearly not making perfection a test of salvation, because as we have seen, he recognizes and even emphasizes the inevitability of sin in every believer’s life.

The point of 1 John 3:9 has to do with our attitude toward sin and righteousness, our response when we do sin, and the overall direction of our walk. In other words, as I have often said, we don’t test the genuineness of our repentance by the perfection of our walk, but by the direction of it. In the words of Puritan John Owen, "Your state is not at all to be measured by the opposition that sin makes to you, but by the opposition you make to it."1John Owen, The Works of John Owen 16 vols. (London: Banner of Truth, 1996 reprint), 6: 605.

What is the true moral object of your affections? Is it sin or righteousness? If your chief love is sin, then according to the principles outlined in 1 John, you are “of the devil” (1 John 3:8, 10). If you love righteousness and practice righteousness, you are born of God (1 John 2:29). This is not measured by the frequency, duration, or magnitude of one’s sins, but by the inclination of the heart.

And the true mark of a redeemed heart is a spirit of repentance, mourning over our sin when we do fall, and a deep and abiding dependence on God’s grace as we wage the warfare against sin. To quote John Owen once more: "A man, then, may have a deep sense of sin all his days, walk under the sense of it continually, abhor himself for his ingratitude, unbelief, and rebellion against God, without any impeachment of his assurance."2Ibid., 6: 549.

That may sound preposterous, but an understanding of the depth of our own sin is the very thing that keeps Christians from falling into utter despair. We know we are guilty, fallen, and frail. To use the exact idea conveyed in the Greek text of 1 John 1:9, we agree with God about our sin.

When we discover sin in our lives, we are not shocked or astonished, but we nonetheless hate the fact that it is there. We trust Christ, our Advocate, for forgiveness and cleansing. And far from becoming tolerant or comfortable with sin in our lives, we become more and more determined to mortify it. As John says, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1, emphasis added).

In other words, a spirit of perpetual repentance ought to permeate and characterize the life of every true believer. The repentance that takes place at conversion begins a progressive, lifelong process of confession and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). That spirit of continual repentance in no way undermines the assurance of a true child of God. On the contrary, it is the very thing that feeds our assurance and keeps it alive.


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#1  Posted by Thad Cully  |  Monday, August 27, 2012 at 2:34 AM

This is exactly what I needed to hear and be reminded of.. When I was 20 years old I left Catholicism due to the realization that although I wanted to know and love God, my life had revolved around traditions that weren't even biblical.. I wondered on my own believing the Bible to be holy and accurate, but without any teachers. Eventually I joined the Marine Corps where I have spent the last 5 years. But I was at Camp Pendleton California in 2010 when I was introduced to Grace to You. Ever since my life has had amazing blessings from the word of God. Now I am getting out this year and contemplating attending the Masters College. I pray nothing but the best for your community, and the Church as a whole. Once again, thank you, and God bless you all.

#2  Posted by Leontine Rakotomalala  |  Monday, August 27, 2012 at 7:34 AM

Praise God! we are very thankful and grateful to Him for all things He has done and still doing in our life.

Thank you Pastor John MacArthur for each post you have shared with us each day, it is very helpful and help me to be close to God and grow in Christ. God always bless you, your family, and all team at grace to you.

In Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so only way that we can escape, mortify the devil and sin are " submit ourselves to the Lord, to surrender to Him, depend on Him, obey His word, and get connected often with Him. As Jesus Christ is Our savior, our Lord, and our life, everyday we must die to sin, to the flesh, the world and through all those we must ask the Holy Spirit help us to do them because we are still in flesh and weak, we can't do anything without Him.

Jesus Christ is the vine and we are the branches, so as follower of Jesus Christ, each of us must be abide in HIM so we bear much fruit and that fruit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control (John 15:1-8 and Galatians 5:22-23)

Brother and sisters in Christ, pray for each of each other. I pray for us that we hide God's word deeply in our hearts and live in It and ask that the power of the Holy Spirit lead and direct our path to please and glorify God.

I would like to share with you the Word of God in Psalm 119:11, 105 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17" Your word I have hidden in my heart,That I might not sin against You.Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Lord,You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, and thanks. Amen.

In Christ.

#3  Posted by Leontine Rakotomalala  |  Monday, August 27, 2012 at 7:49 AM

Let Christ overcome our life and help us to resist the devil that we may do His will and follow Him.

#4  Posted by Johnny Hood  |  Monday, August 27, 2012 at 9:27 AM

What a wonderful summary of the daily struggle that all believers face. It truly is a blessed assurance we have knowing that God knows we are sinners and forgives because of his grace and mercy. Praise the Lord!

#5  Posted by Dan Dunnum  |  Monday, August 27, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Thank you very much for this blog post Pastor MacArthur. This was, for me, one of the best explanations I have read on the subject of sin. Thank you so much.

#6  Posted by Aaron Nakashima  |  Monday, August 27, 2012 at 11:20 AM

I am thankful that God is faithful and true to His Word. While I was serving Federal Prison time in Sheridan, Oregon we were having an inspection by the warden and I know the Holy Spirit had led me to a old and used MacArthur Study Bible, someone had thrown this Bible on the trash can. I was totally blown away by the truths that Pastor John had commented on every scripture. When I was released in 2006, the first thing I did was purchase a MacArthur Study Bible ( I left the other one so someone else would be blessed). Thank you Pastor MacArthur for your heart for the truth, as we all run this race together well. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. 1 John 3:24

#7  Posted by Ron Davis  |  Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 1:11 PM

John, I have been listening to you for over 30 years. But this short blog hit the target dead center. It brought the truth that I knew in my head to strike a resonant chord moving it from the academic to the practical. Especially realizing our attitude toward sin and righteous and mourning over our sin when we do fall. I will meditate on this a great while and review 1 John again. Thank you.

#8  Posted by William Stinson  |  Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 2:35 PM

In addressing sin, and God help us to discern the apostate church. Today I read this article posted in Christianity Today "Leadership"

if I am understanding it correctly it blasphemes the Word in a mushy, twisted way about accepting two lesbians (active?) into the congregation. John you hammer the TRUTH home with the intent of warning us, what is Christianity Today doing? May God correct them or remove them. Did I misunderstand?

#9  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 3:31 PM


Sadly, you're right. The writer of that article sets up two extreme options--accept them or shun them.

Instead, God's Word, and specifically the example of Christ, would lead us to show grace and mercy BY calling them to true repentance, just as we were called to forsake our sin and believe.

I'll stop short of saying he blasphemes the Word, but he is severely misunderstanding and misrepresenting it.

#10  Posted by Mike Mittelstadt  |  Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 8:46 PM

I like your statement that "we don’t test the genuineness of our repentance by the perfection of our walk, but by the direction of it." That's the best way of putting it I have ever seen. Thanks, Pastor MacArthur, for all your teachings and resources.