When the Holy Spirit came into your life the change in you was like night and day. It’s like you were given a heart transplant. Your old heart, which was captive to desires of the flesh and enslaved to sin, was replaced with a new heart with new desires and appetites. Your new heart beats with new passions and they are the passions of the Holy Spirit. This is why John can say outlandish things like this:
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)
Before I understood what was new about me, I used to look at verses like this sideways. “No one keeps on sinning?! John, have you lost touch with reality?”
In a manner of speaking I think this is exactly what happened. John understood that there is no comparison between the life we had in Adam and the new life we have in Christ. Sinning is characteristic of Adam’s nature, not Christ’s. For us, sinning is a part of that old reality that died with Christ on the cross. It does not describe our new reality in Christ.
“But Paul, are you saying we won’t ever sin? Now you’re starting to sound like you’ve lost touch with reality.” Maybe I have. Maybe I have traded the flawed and false reality of my old life for the better and truer reality of his.
A promise, not a threat
So what is John talking about when he says no one who lives in him keeps on sinning? There are two ways to read this. Someone schooled in the sticks and carrots of the old covenant will interpret these words as a threat. “If you want to remain in him and stay saved, you had better stop sinning. Don’t be deceived. God is holy and intolerant of sin. Slip up and you’re outta here!”
What an awful distortion of God’s unconditional love! Can you imagine being married to someone who threatened to kick you out every time you made a mistake? You would be an emotional wreck. You would walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting your hyper-sensitive and ungracious partner.
Come to think of it, this is exactly how many Christians live. Since they don’t know what makes the new covenant new, they are filled with performance anxiety. They are ever fearful of enraging a temperamental God.
Look to the cross! If God loved you enough to die for you when you were a sinner, he surely loves you now. He didn’t stop loving you after you got saved and he will never kick you out. Your union with the Lord is not conditional on your behavior. In case we had forgotten this, John gives us a reminder:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15, NKJV)
God abides, he dwells, he stays. The moment you acknowledged Jesus as Lord, he moved into your life and he will never leave.
John’s remarks about not sinning should not be read as a threat but promise. He is describing the new life that we have in Christ. Jesus didn’t sin and he never will. If you let him live his life through you, then without any conscious effort on your part you’re going to start talking and walking just like sinless Jesus. It’s inevitable. Live with someone long enough and you begin to resemble that person in manner and thought.
Sonful, not sinful
I am not saying your behavior will attain a level of sinless perfection this side of eternity. I am saying that living in fellowship with the sinless Son produces desires in us that are informed by his righteous nature. You are Sonful not sinful. This is how John explains it:
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. (1 John 3:9)
This is not about your performance but your pedigree. Look at the verse again. Three times John refers to your parentage; born of God, God’s seed, born of God. John is trying to tell us that while Adam breeds sinners, God does not. This comes out clearly in the Message Bible:
People conceived and brought into life by God don’t make a practice of sin. How could they? God’s seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It’s not in the nature of the God-begotten to practice and parade sin. (1 John 3:9, MSG)
Origin determines destination. In your old life you followed in the faithless footsteps of your father Adam. You walked after the desires of the flesh because they were the only desires you had.
But you have been taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. You have become a partaker of his divine nature. The evidence of this is the new desires and new ambitions you now have. As far as sinning goes, you are just not that interested anymore. Sure, you still have the capacity to sin. But you don’t enjoy it like you used to. Sinning makes you miserable because you know who your Father is, and when you know who your Father is (not a sinner), then you know who you are (not a sinner).
In the next verse John adds, “This is how we know who the children of God are” (1 John 3:10).
It is those who practice righteousness, not because they have to, but because they carry the righteous DNA of their righteous Father. You don’t practice righteousness to become righteous but because you are righteous. You are a righteous branch on a righteous vine doing what comes naturally.
Extracted from The Gospel in Ten Words.