There are some stark warnings and strong language used in 1 John 3:4-10. For some reason, my heart and mind were wrestling with this passage for a while today. I came back to it a numerous times to re-read. Eventually, I've distilled this down to categories of sin, or two ways of thinking about sin are really helpful personally. So, here are two new ways of thinking about sin that may be helpful to you as well...
- Relationship with Sin
Everyone sins. John already told us that in this letter, when he said that "if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves" and "if we claim we have not sinned" we make God out to be a liar (1 John 1:8,10). Whether we sin, even as followers of Jesus, is not a question. The question is, how do we relate to our sin? Think of a particular sin struggle... pride, greed, apathy, anger, sexual immorality, escapism, etc. Now think of that sin in relational terms. Do you relate peacefully to sin? Do you live in harmony and light hearted union with your sin? Do you defend and protect your sin and fight to stay close to your sin? We all have an relationship with sin, and it's either a relationship reconciled to sin and growing closer to our sin, or it's a relationship distancing from our sin, growing cold toward sin, and learning to hate sin.
- Practice of Sin
John uses an interesting word to distinguish between those who have a real relationship with Jesus, and those who have a fraudulent relationship with Jesus. He contrasts here, those who "confess" and repent of sin (1 John 1:9), with those who "practice" sin (1 John 3:4,9). That word, "practice," hit me today as something we do to improve at a particular skill. Essentially, John is giving those who identify with Jesus, a test for whether we really have the life of Jesus in us. Quite simply, are you working hard at your sin, developing your sin, honing your sin, getting more efficient and proficient at your sin? Are you increasingly tied to sin, identified with sin, bound to sin and invested in sin? The alternative is to practice righteousness.
Now, lest you get disillusioned by the requirement of law, remember the gospel brothers and sisters. We are all sinners, guilty of lawlessness. Righteousness begins with confessing your unrighteousness and believing in the righteousness of another which has been attributed to you by grace, through faith. To "practice righteousness" then, means first and foremost, to diligently and consistently walk in repentance and faith. Work hard at confession. Diligently develop repentance. Keep giving yourself to them. Give time and effort to understanding and applying the gospel to your own heart. There are a great many other works of righteousness, to be sure. But all other righteous practices are grounded in and flow from the practice of repentance for our unrighteoueness and faith in the righteousness of Jesus. Practice that, and you'll find yourself abiding in God.