“You sinner!” The preacher thundered from the pulpit in our small Pentecostal church, and, as a 10-year-old boy, he had me convinced. Yep, I was a sinner and I needed to be saved. So, that’s what I did. In fact, every time there was a chance to be “saved” I took it! (I still do!)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to never sin again? But what if our idea of what sin really is is wrong? What if we have the wrong notion of what sin is in the first place? How can I stop doing what I don’t understand?
Look at our Lesson today in 1 John 3:9-22:
BRETHREN, no one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask.
St. John’s provocative statement declaring that “no one” who is born of God commits sin” is shocking, especially since we know we do sin. So, does that mean we aren’t born of God? But he doesn’t stop there with the challenging comments. He then goes further and says that someone born of God “cannot” sin! Whoa!
Before you push the panic button, let’s look at the rest of the passage to see what John is trying to communicate to us. John gives us three insights into the nature of sin and what overcomes this sad state in the human heart.
First, The Message of Love is “from the beginning.” John immediately follows up his challenging comments with a reference to love being the timeless message of God to His creation. He uses the ancient story of Cain and Able to illustrate this message. Cain killed his brother, Abel, because Cain’s deeds were evil. And his deeds revealed his heart. He didn’t love his brother!
Next, The Message of Love is a matter of life and death. The key word here is “abide.” In fact, this unlocks the whole passage. A lifestyle of love reveals a person is truly living in the divine nature. A lifestyle of a lack of love reveals just the opposite. Just as Christ laid down His life for us, so we, too, if we are His disciple, we lay down our lives for others.
Finally, The Message of Love is public. All know Who’s side we are on as we allow love for others to be the paramount characteristic of our life. When everyone witnesses your love for others, this one consistent practice proves your freedom from condemnation. When your heart doesn’t condemn you, no one else will either. And you can have confidence in your relationship with God.
So, a lifestyle of sin (not breaking a rule, but a lack of love) reveals you are still gripped by spiritual death and you are not participating in God’s divine nature. But a lifestyle of love for others is the Family resemblance of a person who is becoming “like Christ!”
Today, what does your lifestyle say about who you belong to in the first place? Your deeds reveal your heart. So, what do your deeds say to everyone around you? It is by an active, daily, and consistent willingness to keep getting up every time you stumble that will gradually transform your life to one that is loving and like Christ. It’s the whole reason we are called to be Orthodox on Purpose!