Monday, June 16, 2008

1 John 2:1-2 - Sinless Perfection is Required?

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.[1 John 2:1-2]

I tend to question everything I hear come out of a preacher's mouth. I believe that when a person makes a claim, especially when they claim that they are speaking for God, I want to have some verification, something to substantiate that claim.

There are so many times when the Bible calls for a Christian to live a Holy life-- one that does not sin, one that obeys Christ commands. In fact, we will see that John (the one called a "Son of Thunder" by Jesus because of his bold speech) says this very thing several times in this letter (1 John 2:3, 29: 3:6, 9-10, 24; 5:4, 18).

Preachers always tell us that, of course, John isn't talking about total sinless perfection, but I've never heard anything to substantiate that claim. I've never been given a serious explanation. They tell us that John means that a Believer's life will not be characterized by sin. Sure, it just makes sense that God doesn't expect Christians to be flawless, it's just not possible. But I've seen too many other examples in which human logic (or even what seems "fair" or "just" to us) fails to match God's expectations (as a basic example: "Surely a loving God wouldn't send people to Hell").

So, I've always had this annoyance in my mind, somewhat like buying a puzzle and finding that one piece in the background is missing-- a piece that isn't critical to make out the subject of the puzzle, like missing an eye on that fluffy puppy dog. But even missing part of the background would make me want to take the puzzle back. How do we know for sure (e.g. from Scripture) that the Bible doesn't call for sinless perfection from Believers? Where is this one piece, the solid evidence for the argument that we must live Holy -but not flawless- lives?

Right here in 1 John 2:1.

We see in this verse that even though John makes some very black-and-white statements about following Christ's commands, he does leave room for grace. He says, "I don't want you to sin, but if you do..." This is how we know that Scripture does not call for sinless perfection among believers.

But how does all of this mesh with John's requirements for flawless obedience? Let's take a look at 1 John 3:6-10.
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. 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. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 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. 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.[1 John 3:6-10]

There are two very interesting observations that we can pull out of the Greek in this passage. The first is that John doesn't always use the verb "to sin" to put the action in his sentences. Several times he uses the verb poiew, which means "to do" in its simplest form. This makes his statements read something like "to do sin." The action is in the doing, or practicing of sin.

The second observation is that when he does use the verb "to sin" it is in the Active voice, which, in the Greek, means to do something in an ongoing or recurring fashion. In fact, Greek students would render an Active verb as "sinning" instead of merely "to sin."

The point: John's words clearly tell us that it is the regular practice of sin that shows that one "has not been born of God."

In contrast, John speaks of abiding in Christ (3:6), and that God's seed remains in [those born of God] (3:9). These two words (abide and remain) are from the same Greek word, meaning "to live" or "to dwell" (see John 15). So, while an Unbeliever lives a life in sin, the Believer lives a life in Christ, a life under the covering of His sacrifice (1 John 2:2)

In conclusion, John makes it very clear that a true Believer will life a Holy life, but it is not assumed that he/she will be absolutely sinless. This is true for two reasons:
1. He makes an allowance for forgiveness as found in 1 John 2:1; and
2. Even in John's calls to Holiness, he says that believers will not live a life of sin, but rather a life in Christ.

The final question we must answer, then is: "How do I know if I am simply sinning or living a real lifestyle of sin?" What do you think?