He Who Does What Is Right
1 John 3:4-10
Key Verse 9
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”
The subject of sin is truly an unpleasant one. But we cannot avoid it while reflecting on the Bible. John tells us from the start here in this book that those who claims to be without sin, deceives themselves, and the truth is not in them. (1:8) Therefore, those who deny the existence of sin in any way, shape or form don’t really love themselves enough, because to deny the existence of sin is to sign one’s own death sentence. On that day when all peoples and nations are gathered before the judgment seat of Christ, there will be no forgiveness for them because by denying the existence of sin or in reveling in it, they deny Christ, the Son of God who was crucified for sin. On that day it will be too late to acknowledge sin and its seriousness and to find deliverance from it. Those who had not been cleansed or purged from sin, will face God’s eternal judgment. And we cannot separate sin from God’s judgment because God tells us that “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and eternal “condemnation” (Romans 5:18). But, the very place where God says this, he also tells us that it doesn’t have to be that way— but that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Therefore, anyone who loves themselves will never deny the existence of sin, nor ever claim not to be a sinner. Nor will they take sin lightly, but they will treat sin with the utmost seriousness. In other words, they are eager to solve their sin problem. So, they will confess their sins, repent of them, and ask the forgiveness which God offers through the Blood Jesus shed on the cross for all sinners.
John makes some very strong statements here about sin. He says: “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (6) He says: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil.” (8) He says: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” (9) What he says here is troubling because even if we acknowledge sin, believe in Jesus and receive forgiveness and cleansing, we also know that occasionally we still fall into sin, and sometimes even wallow in it for a while. So, what’s John trying to tell us here? He is trying to tell us that there is a big difference between sins of weakness which true Christians occasionally fall into, and the willful habitual sin that is inherent to all flesh and is the practice of those who refuse to repent. He’s trying to tell us that while the sin problem is solved for those who trust in Christ Jesus, they occasionally sin out of weakness, but they do not live a life of sin nor do they practice it in their lives. This is far different from those who are not the children of God, whose sin problem isn’t solved and who continually sin out of habit. John was appalled at those who claimed to know God and to have a relationship with Christ— who think they are Christian— yet take sin lightly and continue to live in it. He says that they’re not the children of God but of the devil because they had never been born of God and do not belong to God’s family. They still have the nature of their father the devil who “has been sinning from the beginning” (3:8) and continues to sin and to influence people to sin. These are still plagued by sin.
Why do we need to know these things? Because the world is under the control of the devil who has led the whole world astray from God (Revelation 12:9) and his truth. He has invented religions that challenge the true gospel so as to keep people in the dark about the true way of salvation. There are philosophies that negate the presence of sin. There are religions that offer false ways of salvation. Then there are even within the Christian faith teachings that undermine the problem of sin and work against Christ and his blood . The teaching about sin and salvation from sin is a subject that God has made very clear throughout the Bible. We should know the difference between occasional sin— which is a result of a Christian’s weakness— and actually living in the continuous practice of sin. We should know about the old nature that needs to die and the new birth that brings us into fellowship with God. We should know how to tell who is the born again child of God, and who is not. In this passage John clearly says that “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God.” (9) What then do the children of God do if they are not bent on sinning? They do what is “right” in the sight of God. (7) We can better understand what that means if we understand what sin is. In this section John also tells us why Jesus came. He came to “take away our sins” and to “destroy the devil’s work”. (5,8) This is good news for all who want to be purified from sin. Let’s open our hearts to John’s words here.
This section begins with a definition of sin— of what sin actually is. Read verse 4. “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” This is the best definition of sin. The Bible defines sin in many ways, but this is the best. He says that “sin is lawlessness”. And he also says that, “everyone who sins breaks the law”. The law he’s talking about here is God’s word— and God’s will— as well as all the commands in the Bible that tell us what God desires from us, from our conduct to our attitude to our morality standard even to what we’re supposed to do in our daily lives as well as in our life in general. Therefore, lawlessness is nothing less than defying God’s word or opposing God’s will— not only by our actions but even in our thoughts and emotions and our attitude towards him. And most people are living this way! The Bible calls this rebellion against God or hostility towards him, even if they themselves don’t think so. The Bible calls this kind of rebellion and hostility against God. “lawlessness”. The Bible also calls that sin! This, then, is what sin is. It is living your life in hostility and rebellion against God breaking all of his laws. I say “all his laws”— all of them— because even if a good and noble man does good things, if that man is not living his life for God, serving God’s purpose in his life, then he’s breaking all of God’s laws, and therefore, he’s a law breaker. In the end he will be judged for that, and not for the good life he thought he lived.
Originally, as human beings, we were not created to break God’s laws but to uphold them, for God made us stewards of our lives and of this world, and the only way to enjoy our lives and the world he gave us is to live in harmony with God and to serve his purpose. We were created to have an intimate fellowship with God, to do his good and righteous work and to enjoy him forever. But when our ancestor Adam listened to the voice of temptation and broke God’s Law in the garden, sin invaded all of us and we all became law breakers from birth. There is no way for us to not be law breakers. We have no power inside us to stop being law breakers. Unless we are transformed on the inside through God’s intervention, we cannot restore the godly nature God gives us through a new spiritual birth. We remain law breakers— or sinners— because we live lawless lives. This is the condition of all people before God sent us his Son to save us. John tells us that sin is lawlessness and those who live in sin and continue to sin cannot possibly be God’s children. He also tells us that God’s children have a new nature, a nature that no longer sins but one that longs to be in harmony with God’s laws— with every one of them!
Of course, most people have no idea about God’s laws nor about their own behavior towards God. They have no idea that they are living in rebellion against God and that they will have to eventually pay the penalty for their lawlessness. They don’t know because of two things. The devil blinds them to see their condition before God. And they are not listening to the word of God which tells us these truths all the time. But some are listening. They are the ones who open their heart to hear the truth. And what is that truth? Read verses 5-6. “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” That’s exactly why Jesus came. He did not come to trivialize sin in our lives, nor to condone it or excuse it. He rather came to “take away our sins”. He came to destroy sin from its root in our lives. He came to destroy the work of the devil who works in our hearts and lives to continue sinning. (8) The devil is the one who originally brought sin into the world. He is the one who trivializes sin and condones it so that we get its pleasure but are blinded to its consequences. He is the one who excuses sin with all kinds of false doctrines and teachings and with clever manipulation of our thoughts and feelings. John warns that those who continue in sin are of the devil. They serve the devil’s purpose rather than God’s original purpose in their lives.
But Jesus came to take away our sins. He came to wash away our sins, and to also rid us of sin’s power in our lives. Jesus came to overthrow and destroy the sin nature within us. He came to restore law and order back into our lives so that we might no longer live in sin but live in Christ and do what is right before God— that is, what we are created to do— to love God, to love one another, and to serve God’s purpose in our lives. Jesus did that when he gave himself as a ransom for our sins on the cross, and shed his blood for our forgiveness and cleansing. Only faith in him can muster the awesome powers of the cross and the blood to overcome, overthrow and destroy the sin nature within us that wants to sin and live in enmity with God. When law and order are restored to our hearts and lives through faith in Jesus, we cannot possibly go on living a life of sin and rebellion against God. Rather we want to do what we’re supposed to do— doing what is right and righteous.
Read verse 6 again. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” John tells us that those who live in him do not keep on sinning. Faith in Christ brings us not only forgiveness and cleansing and a new life, but it also brings us into intimate fellowship with Christ. The words: “Who lives in him” are amazing. What does it mean to live in him? It means to abide in his word, to live by his rules, to respect his authority and to submit to his sovereignty. That’s what remaining in him is all about. As Christians in this world we are in the middle of a battle field surrounded by enemies and poisonous vipers. But to be “in him” is like being or remaining in the safe-zone. As long as we’re in the safe zone we’re safe from the battle going on all around. The safe zone is shielded and protected by him. It is marked everywhere by pointers and help aides and directions for staying put, for defense and for offence when we are attacked. In the safe-zone, we are safe from the enemy who is ever eager for us to slip and to sin. We are safe from the enemy who wants us to be distracted with his sin distractions that we shirk our responsibility towards the King whom we love, serve and fight on his side. Only in the safe-zone it is He who fights for us. When we step out of the safe-zone, we are almost on our own. But in the safe-zone everything we do is good and righteous and according to his will, because there, we carefully listen to him and obey him. And in the safe-zone, we also draw from his life and strength everything that we need in life until the battle is over. Those who are not in him, whether they are good or bad, must fight alone and in this kind of battle they are sure to lose because the enemy is too strong for any man or woman to fight alone. John tells encourages us that if you live in him, you will not keep on sinning.
Read verse 7. “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” Again, John tells us who the children of God are and who are not. Those who keep on sinning are not the children of God. Those who do what is righteous are. We have seen what it is to do what is right and righteous. It is to live according to God’s word and do his will in our lives as we live for the purpose for which he created us and now even called us in him. But John still tells us: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.” He tells us not to let anyone lead us astray not because it’s easy to be led astray. Most true Christians will not fall for the obvious distortions of the Bible. Satan is clever enough not to lead a Christian astray by saying for example that Jesus was only a spirit but not a flesh and blood person. But the devil can lead astray in very subtle ways, as we see happening before our eyes. So many Christians are deceived to think that as God is love, therefore all acts done in love or for love are of God. Because of that, we are today seeing the meaning of marriage redefined. We are seeing Christians justify their infidelity as long as it’s done in the cause of love. When you allow yourself to be deceived like that, you break fellowship with God and the downward road you take can only lead to your total failure as a Christian. John warns us “do not let anyone lead you astray” because the devil is clever in polluting the minds and hearts of Christians a little at a time. And he’s very convincing, otherwise how can so many unwary Christians follow unclean spirits such as we witness on TV and in so many churches!
There’s another reason why John warns us. He warns us because we cannot ignore our very nature, our sinful nature, as the term states it to be— a sinful nature. What does that mean? It means that because we are descendants of Adam, there is a very bad guy living in us who is by nature bad. The Bible tells us much about him. It tells us that he is hostile to God. It tells us that he is hostile to everything that is godly. It’s not like we want to be like that, but we’re born that way. So, if we’re not rescued from this sinful nature, or the bad guy that lives within us, we go on sinning from the day we are born till the day we die. In other words, if someone doesn’t rescue you from the bad guy, you go on doing exactly what the bad guy wants you to do. Often you might resist, but he’s much stronger than you and you can’t win. For example, you know that stealing is wrong and your conscience bothers you, but you go ahead anyway and steal because he wants you to. You know that looking at or engaging in immoral things is wrong but you can’t resist the bad guy’s will within. He’s stronger than you and knows how to work his way around your conscience to ease your guilt feelings. So I’m using an analogy of the bad guy within but he’s really not another person— he’s your sinful nature. Unless you are rescued from this nature you will die with that nature and have to bear the consequences of your sins. You need to be rescued from that nature. And you need to be given another nature, a nature that is actually in harmony with God and his will. In other words, the bad guy needs to be shackled, constrained and beaten down, and another guy— a good guy— needs to be born within you and grow to do what God originally intended for you to do— the good stuff— the holy stuff— the God stuff. The Bible calls that the new birth— or born again. Jesus himself told us that we should be born again. And then he also told us how to be. He said repent of your sins and put your trust in me. If you do that, the good guy— the godly divine nature— will be born inside you. In other words you will have a new nature, like that of God, and it’s so different from the old sinful nature.
What does that have to do with John’s warning not to let anyone lead you astray? It has everything to do with it. When you become a child of God through God’s grace and through faith in Christ, now you have two natures fighting each other within you. You have the bad guy and the good guy inside fighting it out. Now the bad guy is weak and condemned to death— but he’s still there! And your good guy is young and still weak. You can either let him stay weak and helpless or you can nourish him to make him stronger. You can also either starve the other guy and let him get even weaker, or you can feed him and nurture him occasionally just because you feel sorry for him that he’s given up a lot and needs to relieve himself here and there. There’s a story told by a born again native Indian. He explained his own battle inside him this way. He said it’s like having too dogs. One is vicious and the other is good natured. Someone asked him, who usually wins? He answered: “Usually the one I feed and take care of the most.” It’s like this with us as well. It’s who you take care of and feed the most. The Bible tells us that after we’re born of God, if we fuel the sinful nature, we will end up living a sinful life and break fellowship with God. But if we fuel the divine and holy nature, then we end up growing in Christ’s image and bearing the good fruit for God.
John warns us not to be led astray. That’s because we cannot ignore the fact that even though we are born of God, weak as he may be— the bad guy is still there, and he can still cause a lot of damage. How? Well, he is prone to listen to anything and everything the enemy has to say. And why? Because everything the enemy says comes from the sinful nature of which he is. Because everything he says is very appealing to the bad guy. And, because we have a tendency to trust our sinful nature within because we feel that’s who we really are and he knows us well. So John says be careful not to be led astray. When do we tend not to be led astray? When we’re struggling— or suffering— or hard pressed— or oppressed by the world. When we feel down, and treated unfairly. When we feel that we are missing out on the world. When we are sinking into self pity and despair. And we are most vulnerable especially if we have ignored the spiritual nature (the good guy) and not fed and nurtured it for many days— just as so many Christians tend to do. They rely on what they think they know, when they are starving spiritually. So when the Tempter tells us something that appeals to the bad guy, we are tempted to listen. We are tempted to listen because the good guy, the spiritual nature is suffering from malnutrition.
Verse 7b reads: “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” If we’re God’s children then we often know what we have to do. You know what you have to do because the bible tells you what you have to do, and because the Holy Spirit confirms in your heart what you have to do, and because your conscience bothers you if you don’t. Here’s an example. Abraham knew that he had to sacrifice Isaac because God told him to. How hard that must have been to do. And how easy it would have been to try not to listen to the voice of God, but to listen to all the other voices around, beginning with the voice of the sinful nature. How easy it would have been to go ahead an tell everyone what he was about to do, so that someone, anyone, could talk him out of it and show him how unreasonable and terrible it was to do what he knew he had to do. If he’s heart was not rooted and nurtured by the love of God and his word, Abraham would have fallen. But he told no one. He didn’t want anyone to try to dissuade him or stop him from doing what is righteous in the sight of God. We know this ourselves very well too. We know what we ought to do. Verse 9 says: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” When we have God’s seed— the Holy Spirit— we also know what we have to do because the Spirit confirms it in our hearts. The Holy Spirit tells me that I should not be so independent and hard headed— that I need to place myself under supervision and be spiritually mentored and held accountable because I am weak and vulnerable to being led astray. But the devil tells me that I shouldn’t be told what to do. He tells me that I should remain my own man and grow in my own way, and become my own kind of Christian— which is far from what the Bible teaches me that I should be. The Holy Spirit tells me that I should listen to godly advice. But the devil tells me that others don’t know me as well as I know myself and don’t understand me. So I don’t ask for advice nor will I listen to any spiritual counsel except when it suits me. That’s how we are led astray.
We know what we ought to do. We ought never to continue in sin. We ought to put the old nature to death and nurture the spiritual nature God has given those who trust in the Lord. We ought to avoid situations that appeal to the bad guy and carefully tend to the new nature and life we have within. We ought to read the Bible, study the Bible, share the gospel, nurture our spiritual nature, often examine our hearts that we might repent of what does not belong there— whether it is pride, insecurity, lack of love, or sinful behavior. We ought to give ourselves fully to the Lord to help us mature in the image of his Son, that we might please him and serve his purpose. If there is anything the Lord is putting on your hearts today, that you need to repent of, or things that you know the Holy Spirit is convicting you to do, this is the right time to do so. We should not let the sinful nature have a chance to convince us otherwise. Amen.