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The Cancer of Sin (1 John 3:4-6)
Sermon Notes
Sunday, 18 August 2013 00:00

Review: Following the thematic statement (2:28), which gives us a lens for our long term outlook, John describes the perfect righteousness that will be ours when we see Christ (2:29-3:2) and then gives us a lens to see up close by focusing us on our inward purity that is ours as a believer (3:3) due to His righteousness that is put to our account by our faith in Him.

Preview: 1 John 3:6 (6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.) seems to contradict 1 John 1:8 (If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.). We know that God never contradicts Himself in His Word. So how do we reconcile these two verses? The translators of the NIV attempt to do so by rendering the Greek present tense as indicating continuous action: No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

But there is nothing inherent in the Greek present tense that tells us this is continuous action. For example, Jesus refers to His single act of coming to earth at His incarnation in the present tense in John 6:33 ~ For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Is there anyone who would like to tell us that the present tense there means continuous action?

Was Jesus continually coming down from out of heaven? I don’t think so. The present tense can mean continuous action, but that is only one of its ten different uses, and it’s a fairly rare usage. There need to be other indicators in the context of the verb before we conclude that the meaning is continuous action. A solution will be suggested as we consider 1 John 3:6 today.

1. The Character of Sin (3:4 4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.) Sin is here set in stark contrast against righteousness (2:29) and purity (3:3).

Sin is the antithesis of the purity that belongs to Christ, and to everyone who has the hope of being like Him. In the LXX (Septuagint – Greek translation of the Old Testament), we find anomia (translated here as “lawlessness”) used to translate no less than 24 different Hebrew words. The most frequent one is the Hebrew word ‘awon, for which the English words “wickedness” or “iniquity” are good equivalents. The Confraternity Version (1961) thus translates the verse this way: Everyone who commits sin, commits iniquity also; and sin is iniquity. John’s intended point is to stigmatize sin as being “evil,” “wicked,” “iniquitous.”

John is trying to open their eyes to the wickedness of sin, all sin!

2. The Cancellation of Sin (3:5) 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. This verse is not a statement of reality or unreality; it is a statement of purpose. Christ’s purpose in coming to earth was to take away sin. Now that our sins have been washed away by His blood in our position, we should also desire to see them wiped away in our condition. Known sin in the condition of a believer is incongruous with Christ’s purpose (3:5a; John 1:29) and Christ’s purity (3:5b, 3:3b ~ just as He is pure).

3. The Contradiction of Sin (3:6) . 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Why might an interpreter see the issue in this verse as being fellowship instead of relationship?

(1) The word abides refers to fellowship in John 15:5-11 – the very purpose of 1st John (1:3)!

5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

6a Whoever abides in Him does not sin. The failure to recognize the logical connection between verses 5 and 6 is the reason that verses 6 and 9 have been so often misunderstood.

6a Whoever abides in Him does not sin. As Hodges points out (Epistles of John, p.134-136), in view of all that John has said thus far, since urging his readers to “abide in Him (2:28), it clearly and logically follows that the experience of abiding in a sinless Person means that such an abiding experience is totally free from sin.

No first century reader or hearer was likely to get a meaning such as the one that the NIV imports into this text, without the necessary additional words. The introduction of ideas like “continue to” or “to go on doing” require more than the Greek present tense. For this purpose there were Greek words available, such as diapantos, used in Luke 24:53 and Hebrews 13:15 and translated continually. Or the words eis to dienekes (continually) could be added (Hebrews 7:3, 10:1). But the Greek present tense did not by itself convey such an idea as continuous action.

All such explanations fly in the face of the context, especially of 3:5. The statement there in verse 5 that “in Him is no sin” is clearly absolute and cannot be qualified at all.

But since this is so, one who abides in the Sinless One cannot be said to be only “a little bit” sinful! If there can be no sin in Christ at all, one cannot take even a little bit of sin into an experience which is specifically said to be [an experience of abiding] in Him.

To be sure, no Christian can ever claim (in this life) to be experientially free from sin, as 1:8 makes emphatically clear (If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us). But at the same time we can say that the experience of “abiding in Him” is in and of itself a sinless experience. As such, it is not “contaminated” by the presence of sin in other aspects of our experience.

As we have seen, the “abiding life” is marked by obedience to Christ’s commands (2:3-6).

The fact is that, if I obey the command to love my brother, that obedience is not tainted in God’s sight by some different sort of failure in my life like unwatchfulness in prayer (Ephesians 6:18).

It is also true that when we are walking in fellowship with God and seeking to guard His commands, God is able to look past all our failures and sin and see the actual obedience that is there. We have already been told this in 1:7, where we are informed that even while walking in the light there is cleansing going on by virtue of the blood of Christ.

Thus as we walk in the light and do what He commands us, God sees us as people who are totally cleansed from whatever faults we may have and who live before God without any charge of unrighteousness.

Thus, when we abide in Him, the positive obedience is what God takes account of and recognizes. The sin which still remains in us is not in any sense sourced in the abiding life, and that sin is cleansed away in accordance with 1:7. The experience of “abiding” is therefore the equivalent of our experience of obedience. Obedience and sin are opposites.

Thus, sin is no part of the abiding experience at all.

So then, when I am sinning, I am not at that moment abiding in Christ/obeying His Word, and thus the new inner regenerate person is not being manifested. I am not at that moment acting like who I actually am inwardly in Christ. If sin occurs, it is not the new inward man who performs it.

(2) In fact, as 3:6b states, sin reflects both ignorance and blindness toward God and Christ. It follows then that Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. We should therefore not read has neither seen Him nor known Him as though these words implied a never. The flow of thought requires us to see an absolute antithesis between sin and Christ/abiding in Him. It should be noted that the statement that the phrase employs Greek verbs for “see” and “know” that are here found in the Greek perfect tense, which we might paraphrase as follows: Whoever sins is in a not-seeing and not-knowing condition with reference to God.






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