We are tonight, and next Sunday night for sure, as we work up to the Shepherds’ Conference, going to continue our study of 1 John, John’s first epistle, chapter 3. And we’re going to pick it up where we left off a few weeks ago in verses 4 through 10. First John chapter 3 verses 4 through 10. That forms what really is a unit of thought, a paragraph and a very, very important one at that.
I’ve entitled this section, for obvious reasons as we will see, “The Christian’s Incompatibility with Sin,” The Christian’s Incompatibility with Sin. It’s going to take us a few weeks to work our way through this. Again, it’s foundational to things that will come up later in the epistle where we won’t have to spend as much time. But at this point it is very important for us to understand what is being taught here. Let me set it in your mind by reading the text, starting in verse 4.
“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And 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, let 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, that he might 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.”
Now that final verse sums up essentially what the text is about. “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious.” How can you tell a Christian from a non-Christian? How can you tell someone who is born again from someone who is not? How can you tell someone in the family of God from someone in the family of the devil? The answer. Anyone who doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. Clearly it is obvious whether a person is a Christian or a non-Christian by virtue of whether or not they practice righteousness or practice sin. That couldn’t be more clear. There’s nothing about that that is unclear or vague or obscure.
And yet, there is in the thinking of modern evangelicalism tremendous amount of confusion about this. I introduced Viktor Krutko to you this morning from Belarus. And when I think about Belarus, I am always conscious of the impact of the Chernobyl atomic reactor disaster on the life of the people of Belarus. Radiation affected that entire country. It’s in the soil, it’s in the water. Therefore, it’s affected the entire population. Many people since that time have suffered the dramatic and permanent effects of that. In some ways, it’s a dying nation. People literally continue to die from the effects of that atomic radiation in the ground and in the water. Everyone is affected by it.
And that might be an apt illustration of the kind of toxic radiation that has spilled into the evangelical soil and the evangelical water table in our day. And it has affected the whole of evangelicalism with a massive and debilitating approach to the gospel and to salvation. There is a toxic pollution of the evangelical soil and evangelical ground water, if you will, as it relates to the matter of salvation and, in particular, the relationship between a true Christian and sin. And sin.
It was back in 1988 that I wrote a book called The Gospel According to Jesus. I wrote that book because I was reacting to the toxic pollution of evangelicalism with regard to this matter of who was really a Christian. That book made no small stir because that book focused on one of the major seminaries in America, if not the major evangelical seminary in America, and founded that that seminary was the source of the disseminating of this toxic theology. And so I wrote the book, The Gospel According to Jesus, to go back and straighten the issue out and get back to what Jesus actually preached. It was about five years later that I wrote a sequel to that book called The Gospel According to the Apostles originally called Faith Works. And that book confronted the same issue again, not from the teaching of Jesus but from the rest of the New Testament.
Two books over a period of five years released and many more years in preparation, endeavoring to somehow provide some antidote to this toxic attitude that had seeped into evangelicalism. I went back to the book The Gospel According to the Apostles just to sort of rehearse in my mind what the issues were. And I was sort of amazed to have to recognize that they are still around. Here are some things that I had to deal with, and I’m going to give you a list of ideas that come from this erroneous viewpoint. They’re from several books, important books, produced by seminary faculty.
Here are some of the things that they said. Repentance is just a synonym for faith. No turning from sin is required for salvation. Here’s another one. Faith might not last. It is a gift of God but it might not last. A true Christian can completely cease believing and, therefore, can commit the ongoing great sin of willful unbelief and still be a Christian. Here’s another one. Saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel. It is confidence that Christ can remove guilt and give eternal life. It is not a personal commitment to Him. Here’s another one. Christians can lapse into a state of permanent spiritual barrenness.
Here’s another one. Christians may fall into a state of lifelong carnality, born-again people who continuously live like the unsaved. Here’s another one. Disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt one’s salvation. And another one. A believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing. God has guaranteed that He will not disown those who thus abandon the truth. Those who have once believed are secure forever, even if they turn away.
Here are some more that might even be more disturbing: Repentance is not essential to the gospel. In no sense is repentance related to salvation. And another one. True faith can be subverted, overthrown, collapse and even turn into unbelief. Here’s another one. Spiritual fruit is not guaranteed in the Christian life. Some Christians spend their lives in a barren wasteland of defeat, confusion and every kind of evil. Here’s another one. Nothing guarantees that a true Christian will love God. Salvation does not necessarily even place the sinner in a right relationship with God.
Here’s another. All who claim Christ by faith as Savior, even those involved in serious or prolonged sin, should be assured that they belong to God come what may. It is dangerous and destructive to question the salvation of professing Christians. Here’s another one. The New Testament writers never questioned the reality of their readers’ faith. And finally. Genuine believers might even cease to name the name of Christ or confess Christianity at all.
That’s shocking stuff and you have to ask yourself, “Did they ever read the text I just read?” How in the world could “biblical scholars,” quote/unquote, come up with that? Sell it and have it bought, perpetuated, re-taught so that it now pervades the soil of much of evangelicalism? What they’re basically saying is that saving faith is the experience of a moment and it is simply believing, for a moment, certain facts about Jesus and asking Him to save you based upon those facts.
No necessary repentance, no necessary obedience, no righteousness, no turning from sin, no spiritual fruit is required. Pretty amazing to get people to buy into this, people who supposedly know the Scriptures. But as hard as we went at this view in 1988, and again in 1993, with those books, and as widely read as those books are, that stuff is still in the evangelical soil. In order to hold those kinds of views, Scripture has to either be ignored or devilishly manipulated. And many people who are victimized by this kind of teaching just ignore the Scripture. Others who perpetrate this teaching do that kind of devilish manipulation.
And one New Testament letter that is most often mangled by people who hold that view is 1 John because 1 John is just a series of tests that validate one’s profession of faith. This letter, more than any other, I think, is the antitoxin to the destruction pollution in the soil of evangelicalism. And it’s still there. It may not always be defined as overtly as it was in the books from which I quoted, or to which I made reference, but it’s there. Easy believism, cheap grace, believing in Jesus in a moment in time which has virtually no effect on the rest of your life is still a standard approach to evangelism in evangelicalism. We’re still asking people to raise their hand, walk an aisle, sign a card, pray a prayer and then affirming to them that they’re Christians no matter what happens.
We should expect this because Satan is always wanting to attack the true gospel, always wanting people to believe something that’s not true and to be secure in their error. False teachers were infiltrating the early church. We know that. Any study of the New Testament indicates that false teachers were everywhere in the time of the early church, as they have always been throughout redemptive history, working the work of Satan against the truth of God. And these false teachers had infiltrated the congregations to which John was writing. And the general emphasis of their heresy was that spirituality, spiritual knowledge, true religion was about the mind and the mind alone. It was really achieving a sort of exalted esoteric mysterious elevated knowledge.
We use the word Gnostic to define this kind of thinking, coming from the Greek word for knowledge. The idea was that the body was ignored, the body was disdained. It was immaterial, irrelevant what happened with regard to the body. The highest and purest kind of spiritual knowledge, the noblest kind of religion related only to the mind, the deeper self, the inner self. And the false teachers, self-deluded and deluding false teachers believed that they had achieved this elevated, transcendent knowledge, that they had arisen to this higher level. And that knowledge, in and of itself, that esoteric knowledge, that transcendent knowledge was sufficient in itself to give them salvation. And it was utterly divorced from anything earthly, anything physical, or anything behavioral.
In fact, as long as you had that elevated knowledge, it wasn’t even important what the particulars of your theology were. You could have a wrong view of God, you could have a wrong view of Jesus Christ, you could have a wrong view of the Holy Spirit, and you were still okay because you had the secret esoteric, elevated, exalted, experiential knowledge. And that is really a pretty exact definition of the word-faith movement today.
But John gives a series of doctrinal tests and he says if your doctrine isn’t right, you can’t be a Christian. And we’ve been learning that as we go through 1 John. You must have the right view of Jesus Christ. You must have the right view of God, of course. You must have the right view even of the Spirit of God. And as we move through this epistle, he talks about God, he talks about Christ, and he talks even about the Spirit of God so that the test of sound doctrine with regard to the Trinity and the work of the Trinity is made clear. Wrong doctrine equals damnation. And the false teachers John is dealing with fail the doctrinal test by which all true Christians can be measured.
A couple of weeks ago I was in South Central Los Angeles doing a conference for men from the inner-city black churches. We had a great time. I do it down there every year with some of the graduates of our Seminary, Bobby Scott, Paul Felix and Carl Hargrove. And they asked me to speak for a couple of hours on the word-faith movement, the Kenneth Hagen, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Benny Hinn, etc., etc. that are all the time on television. Speak on the Movement. And I approached it theologically, and I showed them that they have the wrong God, the wrong Christ and the wrong Holy Spirit. They have the wrong understanding of the cross and they have the wrong definition of faith. Apart from that, they might have something right.
But whatever they have right doesn’t matter because they have wrong what you have to have right. That’s not Christianity, folks. Do you understand? That is not Christianity. It is sub-Christian. And John is very concerned about these doctrinal tests. I mean, even in chapter 4 verse 2, “By this you know the Spirit of God.” You’ve got to have the right view of the Holy Spirit. You must then, following up then in the same verse, “Confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and that He is from God.” There you have God, Christ, the Holy Spirit in the same verse. So he’s very concerned about these doctrinal tests.
But not only was their theology wrong, as if they didn’t even need to bother with an accurate biblical theology because their esoteric, mysterious, elevated experience was enough, their conduct also was equally wrong. We learned in chapter 1 that they denied sin. These people who believed that they had ascended to God and that they had attained to the spiritual supernatural knowledge, they claimed, verse 6, fellowship with Him but they were walking in darkness. They said, in verse 8, “They had no sin.” They said in verse 10, “We have not sinned and, therefore, they make God into a liar.”
Their conduct was of little significance, or none to them. They denied any necessity of holy living. They denied any necessity of obedience and penitence and righteousness. They denied any necessity of loving others. That’s why John says in chapter 2, it doesn’t matter what they claim; do they love the brethren? Not only is one’s doctrine a critical test of their Christianity, but so is one’s conduct. And so you have doctrinal tests and also you have moral tests. And we went through a number of those already in chapter 2 from verse 4. “The one who says I have come to know Him, doesn’t keep His commandments, is a liar.”
You say you know Him and you don’t keep His commandments, you’re a liar. Knowing Him has immense implications. And yet those things which I read you produced by evangelical professors in the leading seminary in our country, essentially say the same thing that these false teachers were saying. They say you can know Him and not keep His commandments, right? You can know Him and not love Him. You can know Him – that is in a saving relationship – and not even believe in Him. This is so extreme, one wonders how it ever was accepted at all.
The immediate aim then of this epistle is to lay down the tests by which someone’s spiritual condition can be determined. As we read in chapter 3 in verse 10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious.” Obvious. I suppose the immediate aim of this letter itself when it was delivered, was to hit the false teachers in this local congregation to whom it was given because these false teachers were confusing and corrupting the Christian community by saying it doesn’t matter what your theology is and it doesn’t matter what your behavior is.
And you will find, as I said earlier, in evangelicalism, aberrant theology, aberrant theology all over the place that does not conform to a biblical understanding of the nature of God, Father God, the Son and God the Holy Spirit; does not conform to a biblical understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, does not conform to a biblical understanding of faith and how faith appropriates the grace of God for salvation, does not understand that. It takes erroneous views and calls itself Christian. You will also find everywhere in the soil of evangelicalism this idea that if you once prayed a prayer, raised a hand, walked an aisle, had some experience with Jesus, that that settles it forever and it doesn’t matter how you live the rest of your life. And how sad is it that that has been reinforced by some to whom we should turn for instruction as to how to clarify that error.
So I say again, the key is verse 10. “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious.” Two categories are then given. One is the test of practicing righteousness, the other is the test of loving his brother. And the first few verses running up to verse 10 deal with the matter of righteousness. And then from verse 11 on to the end of the chapter, it deals with the issue of love. You can tell who’s a true Christian, the children of God are obvious. They practice righteousness and they love. Those are not new themes, they were all in chapters 1 and 2. But here the approach is a little different. Its expanded, its widened, its broadened.
In chapters 1 and 2 the emphasis was on fellowship. In chapters 3 to 5 it’s on sonship. You say you’re in the fellowship, then there is going to be a manifestation of the reality of that in what you believe and how you conduct your life. Here, the emphasis is you are a son of God. If you are a son of God that will manifest itself in how you believe, and how you behave. There are people, always have been – there were in John’s day, there are today – who claim to be Christians but habitually practice sin and have no visible, measurable dominant love for other Christians. I mean, that’s just pretty common. People who say they’re Christians but if you look at their lives, it’s just an unbroken pattern of sin; say they’re Christians, and do not cherish the fellowship with true Christians.
And so, John addresses that. And here in verses 1 to 10, the issue is with regard to sin. Verses 11 to 24, the issue is regarding love. But first, from verses 4 to 10, for us, the issue has to do with sin. Now, two statements are critical to our understanding. Let’s just pick them up, one in verse 6 and one in verse 9, as we sort of get our hands around the passage. Verse 6, “No one who abides in Him sins.” Verse 9, “No one who is born of God practices sin.” And then he says, “Because His seed abides in him and he cannot sin.” Verse 6 says, “Sin is incompatible. Verse 9 says, “Sin is impossible.”
Now I know that startles us, I think. If you’re not familiar with the passage in particular saying, “Wait a minute, when we were back in chapter 1 verse 8, it says if you say you have no sin, you’re self-deceived and the truth is not in you. If, verse 10, you say you haven’t sinned, you’re making God a liar and His Word is not in you. How can it say in chapter 1 that you have to admit your sin, and here that you can’t have sin?” This opens up the whole question. In fact, it opens up a series of questions. Can a Christian sin and still be a Christian? How much can a Christian sin? At first reading we find that sin is impossible. But in what sense is it impossible? Well. let me try to answer that and it’s going to, as I said, take me a few weeks to work through this cause it’s very important.
The perfectionist. Let’s talk about the perfectionist. The perfectionist says the Christian can reach a place where he doesn’t sin, doesn’t sin at all. And you have to work to get to that place. And perfectionism is usually associated with some form of Arminian theology which also believes that you can lose your salvation. So you get it and you sin a little and you lose it and then you pray and get it back, and you sin a little later and you lose it again. And then you pray and you get it back. And you’re making a little progress in your life.
And so you don’t lose it as often and finally you get to the point where you’re not losing it anymore and then you keep progressing and you get to the place where you’ve reached perfection and you don’t sin at all. Then that’s the locked-in Christian. You can’t lose it when you reach that point because you’ve been perfected. This is often called the doctrine of eradication, as if the sin nature had been eradicated. Is that what this is saying? That a true Christian, the ultimate Christian, the superior Christian is one who reaches a point of sinlessness? That’s what perfectionism seeks to achieve.
On the other hand, you have the antinomian view – nomos, the Greek word for law. Antinomian means against the law. That is the people who sort of live without regard for the law of God. And they say Christians can sin, Christians do sin, and frankly, it doesn’t matter because we’re all under grace anyway. Grace covers absolutely everything. In fact, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.
Who’s right? Are the perfectionists right? Can we reach a point of sinless perfection? Are Antinomians correct in saying, “Look, you’re going to sin, you can't not sin, so don’t make an issue out of. That’s what grace is for, grace covers it. So that in the view of God it’s not sin.” Is that the right answer? Well, neither are correct as you would assume. Christians do sin and it does matter. How do I know that? Because I am one, and that’s how you know it as well. And because the Bible does say if we say we don’t, we lie. We do sin, but it matters. That’s why chapter 2 says, “I’m writing these things to you” – verse 1 – “that you may not sin.” You do sin, you should not sin.
Well you say, “That’s fine. But how then can John say no one who is born of God practices sin because His seed abides in him and he cannot sin because he’s born of God.” How can he say that? How can he say in verse 6, “No one who abides in Him sins.”? And no one who has sinned has seen him or knows him.” How can he say that? How do we explain that statement? Well, many explanations have been offered. Let me kind of ramble through a few.
Some say this definition of sin refers only to mortal sins. That’s been a long historic Catholic view, that if you commit a mortal sin, which is the serious category of sins, then you’re not a Christian. And it doesn’t refer to venial sins. I don’t see any distinction here with that, do you? Do you see mortal and venial anywhere in there?
Some argue that this means God doesn’t regard it as sin anymore. Well that’s the very thing John is attacking. That’s the very thing John is denying. He’s saying that if you treat sin with indifference, you’re not even a Christian. It does matter. You can’t just deny it. You can’t just ignore it. You can’t just sweep it away.
Now, thirdly, some say that it refers only to the new nature and that your new disposition, your new creation can’t sin, and so that’s what he’s talking about. Well, you can’t force the passage to be segmented into just that category. You can’t separate me into two categories. When I sin, I sin and I acknowledge that sin. It does not come from the life of God in me, but it comes from in me as a fallen person. I am one person and in me is mingled the life of God in holy aspirations and righteous longings, along with sin. So it can’t just refer to the flesh, the old nature, as if somehow that’s divorced from me and I’m not responsible for what it does. That is a very, very common view and has been through the years, often held by people known as hyper-dispensationalists.
Others, fourthly, say John is just describing an ideal. He’s describing the ultimate goal. As we said a moment ago, the perfectionist is really the one who has reached that ultimate goal, and even if you can’t become perfect, at least you can strive for it. So John is describing the ideal. But there’s one thing about John, John does not write as an idealist, he writes as a realist. It doesn’t fit the practical down-to-earth character of this epistle.
Others say that this only refers to willful, deliberate sin. One commentator says this, “A Christian doesn’t do sin, he suffers it.” In other words, there’s sin that just happens to me and I’m a victim of it rather than doing it. Well there’s no indication that that’s what he means here in the text at all. And Christians can only sin when their will is activated in that direction. James tells us that you sin when lust conceives within you.
The correct view, finally, after wandering through that sort of useless list – the correct view is based upon the tenses in the Greek. Present tenses, all of them, referring to continuous, habitual action. The Christian does not, cannot habitually and persistently sin. He will sin sometimes. He will sin willfully. But he will not sin habitually, persistently and relentlessly. If you have been saved, born again, regenerated, made new, the whole direction of your life is now toward God. The direction of your life is toward holiness. Your mind is set on the Spirit, Romans 8:6. Your mind is set on things above, Colossians 3:2. You are disconnected from earthly things, Philippians 3:19.
And so. we can say although the believer sometimes sins, yet the ruling principle of his life is opposition to sin so that he hates the sin that he sees in his own life. To put it in the language of Romans chapter 6, sin does not reign in us any longer. The Greek language here is well translated in the NAS in verse 6. “No one who abides in Him sins.” That’s the first translation. The one that really interprets it is in verse 9, “No one who is born of God practices sin.” That is the habitual ongoing practice of sin. As opposed to unsaved people; unsaved people live habitual sin. They sin in their thoughts and their words and their actions in an unbroken and habitual pattern.
If no other sin is going on in the life of an unbeliever at any given time, the sin of unbelief is reigning supreme, right? The sin of unbelief is a way of life. That sin in itself is unbroken. Unsaved people live lives of habitual sinning. Christians do not. Christian do not. This is emphasized again in verse 8, “The one who practices sin.” It’s that idea of the perpetual sinning. It’s emphasized again in verse 10, “Anyone who does not practice righteousness,” again there’s a pattern difference here. Christians sin, we said that. If you deny you sin, you make God a liar and the truth is not in you. But we do not sin in an unbroken pattern.
What was claimed by these theologians that I referred to at the beginning of the message, that you could be a true Christian, continue in an unbroken pattern of carnality and sin, corruption, unbelief, apostasy, denial of Christ is absolutely the opposite of what John is saying. And John gives us three reasons and maybe we’ll look at one of them tonight. Three reasons why true Christians are obvious to us because they do not practice unrighteousness, but they practice as a pattern of life righteousness. Three reasons that John gives us why we do not habitually practice sin.
One, it is incompatible with the Law of God. It is incompatible with the Law of God. Two, it is incompatible with the work of Christ. And three, it is incompatible with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is a brilliantly conceived section of Scripture authored by the Holy Spirit through John that pulls together these great massive themes: The Law of God, the work of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, bringing to bear upon this issue each member of the Trinity and the unique role that they play. Three arguments for the holiness of believers. If you are a true Christian, you will believe the truth and you will behave in a righteous way. That is clear.
Believers are manifestly righteous. And reason number one, why they do not practice sin is because sin is incompatible with the Law of God. Look at verse 4, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness and sin is lawlessness.” Literally the original says, “Everyone doing sin is doing lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness.” Not a transgression of the Law, that’s not what he said. He didn’t say sin is a transgression of the Law. Sin is hamartia, missing the mark or wandering off the way. Sin is adikia, a failure to be righteous. He says here we’re not talking about sin as a violation, we’re talking about sin as an attitude. Everyone doing sin, practicing sin is engaged in practicing lawlessness. And lawlessness is an attitude. It is not so much the transgression of the Law, as the indifference to the Law. Construction here makes sin and lawlessness identical. It’s living as if there is no Law. It’s living as if there is no law-giver.
When Jesus, in Matthew chapter 7, condemned the Pharisees and those who believed in their self-righteous system of theology, and even at the same time condemned many who had identified with Him, He said to them in verse 23 of Matthew 7, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” John, no doubt, learned this truth from the Lord Jesus Himself. Jesus said, You are not Mine, whatever you may confess, Lord, Lord, we did this, we did that, we did the other thing. “Depart from Me, I don’t know you.” Why don’t I know you? Because you practice lawlessness. You live in a condition of disregard for the Law of God.
This is the universal truth of living in rebellion against God that characterizes all the unconverted. And it is important to note the language here. Verse 4. “Everyone,” in verse 4, “Everyone.” Verse 6, “No one,” verse 9, “No one,” verse 10, “Anyone.” Verse 15, “Everyone.” There aren’t any exceptions here. There isn’t any dual standard of morality. Six times in the text he uses pas ho, everybody, covers everybody. Everybody, anybody – no exceptions – who is practicing sin is living in an ongoing condition of lawlessness. And lawlessness is proof that you’re outside the kingdom. Jesus said, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness, I never knew you.” This covers everybody.
Any unconverted person lives in a condition of lawlessness, rebellion against the Law of God. Don’t ever underestimate sin and don’t ever define sin only in bits and pieces. There are, of course, individual acts of sin but they only reflect a deeper, profounder, consuming, captivating, dominating, reigning presence of lawlessness that defines the very nature of the unredeemed heart. Lawlessness is open rebellion and defiance toward God. Active rebellion against God’s will. Now, a number of times in this passage the language again is helpful to us.
You see in verse 4 the word “practices.” This is from the verb “to do.” Practices, practices in verse 4, you find it again in verse 7, the word “practice.” Verse 8, the word “practice.” Again in verse 9, the word “practice.” Again in verse 10, the word “practice,” it’s the one who is doing this habitually. God has standards and they are the same for everyone. One thing is true, an unconverted person exists in an ongoing practice of sin related to a dominant lawless attitude. Now, if you’re a Christian you no longer have that attitude, is that not true? You don’t have that attitude. You don’t live anymore as if there is no God and He has no Law.
You don’t live that way because Jesus said if you come to Me, you want to come to Me, then here are the terms, “If any man will come after Me, let him” – What? – “deny himself, even to the point of taking up his cross and following Me.” You’ve denied all of the lusts and desires and longings and things that satisfied and fulfilled you. You now submit yourself to the lordship of Jesus Christ; you submit yourself to the sovereignty of God. You say, “God, take over my life, I now live for You, I confess You as my Lord. I will live by Your Law. I will obey – as we said this morning – Your covenant. Splatter me with Your blood, I make a pledge when I embrace You as my Savior that You shall be my Lord and I submit to You penitently to offer my life in obedience.”
When you become a Christian, you bow your knee to the lordship of Christ, to obey Him, to follow His will, to fulfill His Law. That is the commitment of salvation, you submitting to the lordship of Christ willingly, lovingly, eagerly, gladly. And then you begin to understand what David said in Psalm 119, “O how I love Thy Law.” And when you read Psalm 119 he says it over and over and over and over about 175 times. You love the Law of God. In Romans chapter 6 in verse 16 through 18 – this is a familiar portion of Scripture, you need only to be reminded briefly of it. Verse 16, “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, having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” How clear is that?
You traded in slavery to sin for slavery to God. You traded in submission to evil for submission to good. You obeyed your master, Satan, now you obey your master, the Lord Jesus Christ. You hated the Law of God, you lived in lawless fashion. Now you love the Law of God. You love it. That’s so very evident. When someone is a Christian the Word becomes precious to them. The Law of God is sweet to them. It is honey from the honeycomb and sweeter. It is more precious than gold, than fine gold, says Psalm 19. You love that Law.
You see that in Romans 7, and that’s another good illustration. As long as we’re in Romans 6, you can just go to the next chapter. Paul loved the Law of God, verse 14, “We know that the Law is spiritual.” Paul understood that. In fact in verse 12 he said, “The Law is holy. The commandment is holy and righteous and good.” He had come through salvation to love the Law of God. And he had a spirit of conformity, not a spirit of rebellion. We know, in verse 14, the Law is spiritual, he says. I also recognized that I am of flesh, I’m still human and I am sold into bondage to sin.
And then he describes the struggle, “For that which I am doing I do not understand, I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I’m doing the very thing I hate.” Therein is the issue, isn’t it? I do things, sinful things, but they aren’t what I want to do. In fact, in verse 16, “If I do the very thing I don’t wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good.” When you sin, and you are brokenhearted over your sin, grieved over your sin and you repent and confess your sin, you are affirming the goodness of the Law that you have just violated. You don’t have to be perfect to affirm the goodness of the Law, to affirm the holiness, the righteousness of the Law. You affirm it when you feel sorry over your violation of it.
I know, he says in verse 17, that I’m not even the one doing it. “It’s sin which still indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. The good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. He doesn’t practice it habitually, Uses the same word that John uses, but in a different context and with a different meaning. He longs to do what is right but he finds himself falling into sin which is not what he wants to do, as evidenced by his penitence.
Verse 20, again, I’m doing the very thing I don’t wish, yet I say it’s no longer I doing it, it’s the sin that’s in me. It’s not the purest expression of me, so I find, in verse 21, “The principle of evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good.” And then I love verse 22, “I joyfully concur with the Law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law” – or principle – “in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am!” Paul is saying I do not live in a state of lawlessness. I do not hate the Law of God. I do not habitually, unendingly and relentlessly practice sin. But I do on occasion do sinful things and they go against the grain of everything I love and everything I want, everything I desire. I find myself doing the opposite.
Therein comes conviction and penitence and brokenness and confession because he loves the Law. Loving it, even though unable to perfectly keep it. But happily because we are not under its dominion, because we are not absolutely dominated by it, because we have dwelling in us the life of God and a new creation, we have the ability to obey the Law of God. If we did not, then what is the purpose of all the commandments of the New Testament and what is the further purpose of chastening us when we disobey? Unless the Lord knows that by a right-heart attitude and the means of grace, we can obey the Law. We can. Every command in the New Testament assumes it. Every promise of blessing for obedience assumes it. Every warning of chastening assumes it.
In the words of Romans 8:12, “We are under obligation not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” We’re no longer under that dominant obligation. We have a new obligation to the Law of God. “We are” – Romans 8:14 – “being led by the Spirit of God, as the sons of God. We have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, Abba, Father.” And we have a new Father, a new Master, we have a love for righteousness, a love for goodness, a love for all that the Law of God contains.
We have the attitude of David when David sinned, he was devastated to the core of his being, and poured out his penitent prayers in the form of Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 in which he pled with God to demonstrate to him mercy. He was grieved, severely grieved over his sin. So was the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 7. He hated the sin that he saw in him.
Now, all of that to sort of sum up this. Lawlessness then is what we were. It’s not what we are. It’s what we were. We have been saved from lawlessness and the characteristic that dominates us now is a desire to obey the Law of God, where before all we wanted to do is always rebel against it. We have been implanted, as it were, with the seed of eternal life and we now love the Law of God, we love obedience. We long to honor Christ. We desire the things that are right and the things that are good. Those are the purest and truest expressions of our new birth. And we do sin, we do sin. But we do not habitually in an unbroken pattern go on sinning. And anyone who does is not a child of God.
If there is ongoing unbelief, ongoing indifference to the purposes and plan and will of God revealed in the pages of Scripture, ongoing disinterest in the truth of God, no apparent longing to obey His Law, interrupted certainly by sin. But if that longing isn’t there, then there’s every reason to assume that there – there is not then the life of God in the soul of that individual. The believer and sin are incompatible because of the Law of God. We are now dominated by the Law of God, whereas before we were dominated by lawlessness. We hated God. We hated His Law. Now we love Him and we love His Law. Habitual sin then is incompatible with the Law of God. Now next week I want to take you to the second point. Sin is incompatible with the work of Christ.
Father, this is so important for us to come to understand that when there is new creation, old things pass away and all things are new. When you do a mighty saving work in the life of a person, there is real transformation. And it is permanent and it is manifest. And there will be repentance and there will be obedience and there will be submission and there will be righteousness and there will be love and there will be faith. And there will be an ongoing confession of the name of Jesus Christ.
These are evidences that the sinner has been delivered from lawlessness into the love of the Law of God. We say with David, “O how we love Your Law.” Even though we fall short of it, we love it and that’s why we hate the sin that we see in us when its violated. This also proves where our truest and purest affections lie toward you. And this is evidence that we are Your children, obvious evidence. Thank You for that confirmation and for that exposure.
And I pray, Lord, even now that if there are some here tonight who, in measuring themselves against this test of lawlessness is against the love of the Law, might find themselves wanting, might find themselves engulfed in ongoing, habitual, relentless, persistent defiance of Your Law and thus know that whatever might have been a momentary experience, they are in the darkness, outside the kingdom headed for eternal punishment.
Lord, may Your Spirit awaken their heart to the truth to embrace the salvation, the forgiveness that comes in Christ and receive the new life and with it the love of the truth, the love of Your Word and Your Law. Those of us who are Christians, increase our love for Your truth, increase our hatred of all those attitudes and actions that violate it.
True Christians are not just penitent at the time of salvation, but penitent always, a penitence born out of the love that we have for You and Your Word that You’ve given us in the spiritual life granted to us by the Holy Spirit. We do love You, we love Your Law. We are heartbroken when we violate it. But we thank You that the pattern of that love and obedience marks us as Your true children. We thank You for that work in us. In Christ’s name, Amen
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