Today, we are talking about the practice of righteousness. In the preceding post I listed some thoughts over the years concerning the interpretation of 1 John 3:4-9. In an earlier class we looked at a song by Miranda Lambert that was an incorrect view of the problem of sin. I think the song Better Than I Used to Be is more in line with a humble approach to our failings. If you haven’t heard it before, I think you will like it.
The next passage of scripture focuses in on how we morally act in our day-to-day lives. We have seen that the fact that Jesus did appear and will appear should motivate us to “purify” ourselves. It is interesting in the material that I have been reading that there are many explanations for what John is putting forward in the verses found at 3:4-9. The hang-up appears to be John’s straight-forward statement in verse 6 that “[n]o one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him”; followed by the statement in verse 9 that “…one born of God…cannot keep on sinning…”
Some explanations given over the years:
1. “Sin” in these passages is meant by John to refer to notorious crimes only. (Augustine, Luther, Roman Catholic)
2. What is sin in the life of a non-believer is not so regarded as sin in the believer. (some gnostics)
3. An argument from Galatians 5:16-17. We have two natures, and our nature “led by the Spirit” will not sin, which is our new nature. Our old nature may keep on sinning in certain situations, but we know are in possession of a new nature. “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Rom. 7:17). So it is not I that is doing it, but that old, sinful nature.
4. John is setting out the ideal, which is the example set by Jesus of living sin-free. The argument is that sinlessness is a characteristic of the age to come and John recognizes that the new age has come (see 2:8). The commentators who take this line of interpretation argue that John is opposing the heretics with statements that are theoretically true of the Chrisitian character. (William Barclay, Robert Law)
5. The sin that a Christian cannot do is the voluntary and wilful act of breaking God’s law. Some may unknowingly sin, or be ensnared by sin which he does not want to do. John Calvin: “they do no consent to sin, but in fact struggle and groan, so that they can truly testify with Paul that they do the evil they would not.” John Wesley: “sin properly called…is a voluntary transgression of a known law.”
6. John means that the sin that a Christian cannot and will not do is a habitual and persistent pattern of wrongful conduct, while leaving open the fact that a Christian will continue to sin.
This week we will be looking specifically at the danger of false teaching. If you recall, we have talked about the fact that in John’s day there arose different ideas about Jesus and his divinity. Those teachings are still around, including the idea that Jesus is a myth.
Check out this interesting article on a new book about the existence of the historical Jesus. I found it interesting that the writer of the book is not a Christian, although he is a New Testament scholar.
I suppose it is easier today to throw out the claim that Jesus is a myth, since a couple thousand years have passed. That would have been more difficult to claim in John’s day, as there were “many witnesses” who could say they had seen Jesus (1 John 1:1-4). Apparently, though, people had a hard time accepting the divinity of Jesus, or the idea that God would come in human form, and allow himself to be killed by man.