“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” 1 John 3:6, ESV
There are two directions we can go with this verse:
- One direction is to read John as saying that if you sin you are not a Christian. In other words, this passage is a call for perfectionism, i.e. Christians do not sin. But if John meant to encourage Christian perfectionism, then he contradicts what he wrote in chap. 1:8, “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
- The other direction is to read this verse as saying those who “keep on sinning” are those who regularly, or habitually sin. Of course we all sin, but it is those who habitually sin who do not abide in Christ, or who do not know him. This direction seems the more common interpretation, the one I hear taught.
But I have questions. Like, how do you measure regular sin? What makes sinning regularly regular? Are we talking frequency? If you sin five times in a day are you a regular sinner? And what about addicts who relapse again and again? Isn’t the nature of addiction regular and habitual? Are they not Christians?
Or maybe there’s a third direction we should take which is to read this verse for the gut-punch that it is. Maybe we need to stop qualifying what John is saying. Instead of softening the blow, we should read this verse as applying to everyone, no matter if you sin every now-and-then, or if you relapse into sin again and again.
We need to stop using this verse to measure how well we’re doing, and we need to start seeing that this verse tells us that every-now-and-then sin is just as damning as regularly sinning.
The only person doing well in this chapter is Jesus – in fact, Jesus is doing it perfectly. John says Jesus is pure (v.3), Jesus is without sin (v.5) and Jesus is righteous (v.7). So rather than put our confidence in our sin management, we put our confidence in the purity, perfection, and righteousness of Christ.
And because God makes us his children (v.1), what’s true of Christ is true of us by God’s grace through faith. It’s this truth we need to abide in, to remain in. To abide in him is to settle into the gospel that you are a child of God, given the righteousness of Christ, and that by him your sins are taken away.
As this truth seeps deeper into our hearts and minds, guess what happens? We practice righteousness. We love the brothers. We fight sin and temptation. Lawlessness and rebellion isn’t something to practice because we are children of God and we want to please Him. Change and transformation take place. We are free from sin so we no longer act as slaves to sin. We are being sanctified.
And when we do sin, we no longer try to minimize or manage the offense of our sin against God. Instead, we confess and place our confidence in His faithfulness to cleanse us (1 John 1:9).
This passage was never meant to show us how well we’re doing. It actually shows us that good isn’t good enough. This passage strips away self-confidence and self-righteousness, and it drives us to the arms of our Savior.
And it’s in his arms where we hide ourselves. It’s there that we find our confidence and our rest. It’s in Christ that the Father’s love (v.1) covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
This is Good News!