1 John 3:4-10 - Whoever Practices Righteousness Is Righteous
Last week we had our missions Sunday so we did not continue in 1 John. Our text this morning is 1 John 3:4-10 but it perhaps it would be best if we consider 1 John 3:1-3 to get back into the context.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (3:1-3)
There are several things that we should notice about1 John 3:1-3.
John is calling believers to ‘see’ and to consider the love of God. He says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” John wants them to see, to take a good long look at, the love that God has given to us. Maybe we need this reminder too.
I grew up in a blended family. My dad married my stepmom when I was very young. As I got older I struggled to know if I should call her by her name, or ‘mom’, or ‘stepmom’. That was such a big question so one day I asked her what would be appropriate to call her. She was fine with whatever I felt comfortable saying. In all of this I neglected to appreciate the fact that she always treated me as a son. Similarly, we may struggle to grasp the wonder of our adoption into God’s family but He has called us His child and that should give us a great sense of comfort and wonder!
And notice that this is a reality for John. John knows that believers are sons and daughters of God. He says, “...and so we are”. He also says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now…”. He does not say, ‘I think this is the case’, ‘it will be true when everything is finalized’, ‘it will happen if everything falls into place’. Are you as confident as the apostle John?
John does not have this confidence because of what he sees in himself. Rather, his confidence is in what God has done for the believer. John knows that he has been born again and His seed abides in Him (9). Our confidence is in God and not ourselves.
John has confidence because he has experienced the love of God and he has seen what God has done. John knows we are not children of God because of our own merits and perfection. He says, “...what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, and we shall see Him as He is.”
Finally, John hopes in the return of Christ and this motivates him to purify himself. John says, “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”
Purification results from looking to Christ and hoping in His return. Often in considering our sanctification we tend to look more at ourselves than we do at Christ. Instead of beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus and being transformed, we look at ourselves and loose confidence and hope. We then doubt God’s ability to love us and question our relationship with Him.
Marvel at the fact that God has made us His children and called us His children.
Recognize that your union with Christ has separation you from the world.
Acknowledge that sanctification is a process and that you will not arrive at perfection until Jesus returns and you see Him as He is.
Look to Christ and hope in Him in your sanctification.
Now let us look at 1 John 3:4-10 and notice that this text builds upon many of these same themes.
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
John began this chapter by declaring that we are God’s children. Now he begins to describe the profound changes that this new relationship brings to a Christian’s life. When we read this text we begin to recognize that in the new birth a radical change occurs in the life of a believer concerning sin. A Christian does not go on sinning.
Parents, does it matter to you how your children behave? Of course it does. Similarly, as children of God, we are to be a reflection of God in this world. Since God is righteous, we will strive to reflect that righteousness; since God is holy, we will seek to be holy; since there is no sin in God, we will seek to live free of the sin which can so easily entangles us.
This passage is full of profound realities that make this radical change in a persons life possible. We cannot accomplish this on our own and apart from the work of the LORD in our lives. He is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him we can bear no good fruit.
A while back I overheard a young couple talking about their future plans. At one point they were discussing how they wanted to have children. Then the young man said, “I know that we don’t go to church but we should send our kids there so they can learn good morals.” The young lady wholeheartedly agreed that this would be a good idea.
Does that conversation grieve you as much as it does me?
Sin is not overcome through some teaching about ‘good morals’. True ministers are not life coaches who teach certain steps to a better way of life. Sin and lawlessness is not overcome by good advice, a few good suggestions, and a little bit of worldly wisdom and luck.
Sin and lawlessness is only overcome by receiving the gospel through faith and repentance, by being united to Christ, by being filled with the Holy Spirit, and by being guided by the Word of God which we hide in our hearts so that we might not sin against God.
Let me draw some comparisons between that young couple and a biblical example of the apostle Paul and his son in the faith, Timothy.
That young couple probably looked at the world and saw that it is full of sin. Paul told Timothy that it would be this way in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “But understand this, that in the last days days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure…”.
This couple saw the need for morality in this world but were failing to see that sin is a heart issue in every person. They mistakenly believed that their child needed some moralistic teaching; rather than seeing that they and their children need toed be set free from sin and lawlessness in their own heart. They needed to become lovers of God and not just have the appearance of godliness. They need real divine power and not simply will-power and self-control.
Paul says that people in the last days will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
I mention all of this because as we look at 1 John 3:4-10 John is not like the parents I just described. He is not hoping to teach moralism. He is not suggesting that having a form of godliness with no real power will be sufficient. He is speaking about what grace accomplishes in the life of a believer.
This is what we see Paul describe in Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.” Likewise, the apostle John is declaring and exhorting these things in this to us today.
A person who has received the grace of God has been given new life, they have been filled with the Holy Spirit, and they love the LORD and His Word. Therefore they will no longer make a practice of sin and lawlessness but will practice righteousness, purity and holiness.
The apostle John writes about the difference between a child of God and an unbeliever because he does not want these believers to be deceived. He says in 1 John 3:7, ‘Little children, let no one deceive you.’ John does not want these believers to be deceived by false teachers. Rather, John wants the believers to recognize who the true believers are within the church.
Again, Timothy needed this same instruction from Paul because of the deceivers around him. Timothy needed to be reminded to look at the godly and their example and to beware of those who sought to deceive. Paul said to him, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra – which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:10-15)
Paul tells Timothy that Christians need to be able to discern between the godly and the godless. Christians need to abide in what the gospel that they have already received. And Christians need to be acquainted with the Scriptures that make us wise for salvation through Christ Jesus. These are the same instructions that John is giving to us in this letter.
There are four main points in our text this morning.
First, The practice of sin is lawlessness. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (John 3:4)
The word ‘practice’ appears six times in this text. John is speaking of someone who makes a lifestyle of sin. They think about what sin they want to engage in, they plot and plan how to do it, and then they carry it out. Those who make a practice of sinning are not conforming their life to the Scriptures but are practicing their own desires. They are not seeking to do the will of God; rather they are seeking to do their own will. They are practicing sin and lawlessness. Those who practice sin rebel against the LORD and they break out against all sound judgment. They seek to minimize sin and live without the restraints of the law of God. They make up their own rules and push back the boundaries that restrained man’s sinful inclinations.
The LORD lamented the sinfulness of His people in Jeremiah 4:22 when He says, “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’ – in doing evil! But how to do good they know not.”
To be lawless, is to rebel against the LORD, His nature, His character, and His will. The psalmist speaks of this lawlessness in Psalm 2 when he says, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”
A true believer will not practice sin and lawlessness.
John’s second point is that Jesus Christ was sinless and He appeared to take away sins. 1 John 3:5 says, “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.”
Let me make a few brief observations about this verse. First, can the same be said of us that John said of these Christians? Do you know that Christ appeared in order to take away sins, and that in Him there is no sin? Oh, that all believers would come to know such truths and be changed by them! Oh that we would know these things and never allow them to weaken in our minds or to grow cold in our hearts. May these truths become so great to us that there must be given to us a thorn in the flesh to keep us humble. (2 Cor. 12:7)
Paul too spoke this way of the Romans Christians. He says, “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). May we be like the Roman Christians!
Secondly, John says that Jesus ‘appeared in order to take away sins’. The word appeared speaks of the manifestation of the eternal Son of God. This would refute the teachings of the Gnostics who were teaching that Jesus was not eternal.
John also says that Jesus appeared to take away ‘sins’. We see that Jesus not only deals with the condemnation that results from our sin, but He also takes away our sins. He provides our justification and our sanctification. He saves us and then frees us from continuing in sin. It is Jesus who takes away our sins, not us.
Thirdly, John says that there is no sin in Jesus, “...and in Him there is no sin”. Jesus was the only person who could ever say, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) Those who abide in Christ cannot continue in sin because there is no sin in Christ.
John’s Third Point is that those who practice righteousness enjoy deep fellowship with the LORD, and those who continue in sin have neither seen Him or know Him. 1 John 3:6 says, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.”
Since John reminded us that Jesus came to take away sins, and that in Christ there is no sin, we know that those who abide in Him will not continue to practice sin. To know Christ and to have seen Christ changes a person. Those who are abiding in Him are becoming more and more like Him. Not perfectly yet, but profoundly none the less.
John’s Forth Point, he did not want believers to be deceived about who is a Christian and who is not. Someone can say they enjoy fellowship with God but it may not be true. Someone may go to church and even teach in the church but they may not really be saved. So John says in 1 John 3:7-10, ‘Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning because He has been born of God. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (9-10)
There are two bookend statements to these verses. The first bookend describes the practice of a believer, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous.” The other bookend describes someone who has not been born again, “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
In between those two bookends is a description of the fundamental differences between the two types of individuals and they are significant.
One has been born again and the other is of the devil.
One is a child of God and the other is a child of the devil.
The child of God is righteous as He is righteous; the child of the devil practices sin as the devil has done from the beginning.
One has been given the Holy Spirit and the other does not have the Holy Spirit.
When a person in united to Christ everything changes as a result. Their affections change and they can no longer be happy living in sin. Because of these fundamental changes within a believer sanctification and radical change can occur.
Let me illustrate it this way. One time I ate at McDonald’s and then became very sick. From that time on I had no desire to eat there ever again. But often my kids would want to eat at McDonalds so I would try a little bit at a time and eventually I had regained my appetite for that food. I would even say that I worked pretty hard at liking it again.
For the believer, something fundamental has changed. There has been a momentous change concerning the lawless life they used to live and the life they live now. They may try for a season to regain some of their passion for the things of this world but it will not work. They may try to enjoy sin and pleasure but it will not satisfy them. It will sicken them. The Christian is now a child of God, filled with His Spirit, and he possesses eternal life. They look for Christ's return and in hope they purify themselves.