Practice What We Preach

Posted: June 14, 2010 in 1 John

1 John 3:4-15, “Practice What We Preach”

Have you ever noticed when something doesn’t quite fit? Sesame Street used to sing, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…” (showing my age 🙂 ) By itself, any particular item may not look unusual, but when compared with a group, all the differences stand out. As with replicas of artwork, the paintings all look the same until compared directly with the original.

That’s the way it is with Christianity. There are millions of people in the world who claim to be Christians (and hopefully many of them are!) – but how can we tell who’s telling the truth & who’s not? By comparing them (and us) with the original. Jesus is righteous, so His people ought to be righteous. Jesus is loving, so His people ought to be loving. One just follows the other, or it “just doesn’t belong.”

Ch 3 began by rejoicing in the wonder & privilege of being called the “children of God.” … Vs. 4-15 take a closer look at what it actually means to BE a child of God. … What God’s children do & what God’s children don’t do – IOW, what are the habits that we practice? Do we practice what we preach (or what the Bible preaches) about righteousness & love for one another? When those things are the “normal” in a life of someone who professes Christ as their Savior, there is a wonderful assurance that they do indeed belong to Christ & are born of God! Yet when those things are absent – when someone who claims the name of Jesus Christ as Savior acts in habitual sin & hatred towards one another, it’s a wake-up call. [] True Christians make a practice of righteousness & love – we need to practice what we preach.

1 John 3:4-15 (NKJV)
4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

A. Is John saying that Christians never sin? No. He makes that perfectly clear in Ch 1. [BIBLE: 1 John 1:8-10] John couldn’t make it make it much more plain that there are times that Christians (those who believe Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, crucified for our sin & alive today in the resurrection, & have turned to Him for forgiveness of sin & new life) DO sin. To claim either (1) we have never sinned, or (2) that we never still sin is to make God a liar. (And at that point, we’ve just proven we ARE sinners in need of forgiveness!)

B. So is John contradicting himself? Absolutely not. The key is the tense “commits sin” = present tense. This is something that is taking place in the present: right now, now, and now. (etc) The idea is one of ongoing committal of sin – sin that never stops. NASB “everyone who practices sin…” When sin is no longer something that we fall into, but rather something in which we dwell, we’re at a point that we’re practicing sin. When our lives are characterized far better by rebellion and hatred rather than holding to the grace of Christ, we’re practicing sin. When we treat the promises of forgiveness as an afterthought & trample upon the blood of Jesus Christ, we’re practicing sin. The difference between Ch 1 & Ch 3 is that in Ch 1 we’re told that Christians do sometimes sin – in Ch 3 we’re told that it’s completely the opposite of the gospel to live habitually within sin.

C. The point? Sin is a big deal. We tend to think of sin being “carelessness.” We might be careless as we sin, but sin isn’t carelessness; it’s “lawlessness.” (True – sometimes we mess up & just “miss the mark”; but that’s not what John is referring to here. Missing the mark would be occasional sin; we cannot engage in habitual sin & claim that it’s just a “mistake.” We’re fooling ourselves, but we’re not fooling God…) Greek grammar implies that the terms are interchangeable – i.e., sin = lawlessness & lawlessness = sin. Where one term is used, the other can be substituted just as easily. Gk = ἀνομία, “negative (ἀ) + law (νομος)” As Christians, we are certainly not under the law in our relationship with God, but we certainly do not act in direct opposition to its heart. The 2 greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength & to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus told us that ALL the law hung upon these two things (Mt 22:37-40). For someone claiming to be a Christian to throw the holiness of God in His face & to act in hatred towards other people is completely antithetical to the very commands of Jesus Christ. It’s truly lawlessness & sin.
__a. Jesus has some sobering words to those who live in lawlessness – especially those who think they’re super-religious. Matthew 7:21-23 (21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ [] Same word… Don’t be deceived by practicing lawlessness!

5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

A. To commit sin is to practice exactly the opposite of what our Lord Jesus came to do. One of the specific reasons Jesus came incarnate (“was manifested”) was in order “to take away our sins.” And praise God for it! Jesus came to seek & to save the lost (Lk 19:10)…and how does He save us? By going to the cross, dying the death we deserved & rising again to new life, offering us forgiveness & life in His name. In Jesus, our sins are completely ‘taken away’…there is nothing more that remains of them. As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us! (Ps 103:12)
__a. Sometimes we need to just sit back & dwell upon that truth for a bit. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ & asked Him to be your personal Lord & Savior, then Jesus has taken away your sins. They’re gone…completely removed. There’s no memory of them that remains, except in our own mind. Every last bit of punishment we deserved for every last bit of sin we committed was placed upon Jesus Christ, and we are now completely free. Do you understand the implications of this? We don’t have to live in guilt of the sins of the past; we are forgiven in Christ! We don’t have to live in fear of the future; we are forgiven in Christ! He came “to take away our sins” – and Jesus didn’t do a 2nd rate job; His work is full & complete. At the cross, Jesus could declare with absolute certainty: “It is finished!”

B. Keep in mind, there’s no sin in Christ – none whatsoever! Just as Ch 3:3 told us that Jesus is pure, we’re told here that in Jesus “there is no sin.” Jesus is both absolutely pure in His character & absolutely sinless in His action. Internally & externally, Jesus is absolutely perfect & free from any stain or blemish before God – which allowed Him to be the perfect sacrifice on your behalf.

6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

A. Follow the logic here: When we abide in Christ, we do the things Christ does – because we’re IN Christ. Thus if there is no sin in Christ, it follows that those who abide in Christ do not continually sin… Just as students in a university study because they’re in school & soldiers in an army fight because they are in the army (that’s what they do b/c that’s where they are), Christians stay away from habitual sin simply because we are in Christ. Jesus most certainly does not habitually sin; neither do those who abide in Him. If we engage in ongoing sin, the only natural conclusion is that we are not abiding in (dwelling in – making our home with) Jesus Christ. There simply is no other explanation. If we were abiding in Him, we simply wouldn’t act that way. On the contrary – when we DO abide in Christ, we are reliant upon His grace, His power, His strength, and His people to keep us walking in a way that brings glory to God. We cannot habitually sin because we are habitually relying upon the Lord Jesus.

B. If that’s true for those who abide in Christ, what does that mean for those who DO continue in habitual sin? It means they are not abiding in Jesus – they have “neither seen Him nor know Him.” A person who says “Of course I’m a Christian!” yet acts like he has never met Christ, has likely done exactly that: he’s never met Jesus. The person who “knows” Christ has experienced Jesus – he/she has relationship with Jesus. And there’s no way we can have a relationship with the Lord Jesus & NOT be changed by Him. Jesus always changes those who love Him & know Him.
__a. “Sounds rather black/white!” It is – that’s typical of John’s writings. For John, it’s often an all-or-nothing scenario, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to wake us up out of our stupor. For those who flirt with sin & play around with it – for those who try to see how much they can get away with – this ought to be a sobering wake up call!
__b. Yet this is not only John; this is the teaching of the NT. Galatians 5:19-21 (19) Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, (20) idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, (21) envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [] If this is what you’re “practicing” (as opposed to showing forth the fruit of the Spirit), then you’re in big trouble! Those who make a habit of these things & have their lives characterized by sin, yet trying to call themselves “born-again Christians” are deceived!

7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.

A. This is exactly what the Gnostic false teachers were proclaiming to the Church. They taught that as only as you were truly ‘spiritual’ in your inner-self (your heart & mind), that you could do whatever you wanted with your body & actions. Your physical body was evil anyway, so what you did with it didn’t matter. WRONG! That’s deception! John stops this heresy right in its track. What we “practice” DOES matter, because what is expressed in our actions & attitudes is quite often what is real in our hearts. Thus it’s the one who practices righteousness that proves he/she actually know the Righteous One: Jesus Christ.

B. Note: Our righteousness comes from Jesus’ righteousness. The only way we can do what is acceptable to God (truly pure, truly virtuous) is be in Christ. It’s because “HE is righteous” that those who abide in Christ practice any righteousness at all. Our lives fundamentally change when we are forgiven & abide in Jesus Christ. But notice the opposite in vs. 8…

8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

A. Again, the opposite is true for those who practice sin. Through their sin (lawlessness), they show that they do not abide in Jesus, but in the lawless one – the devil. Instead of being children of God, they are (in essence) children of the devil.
__a. “Oh come on now. That’s getting WAY too judgmental!” It’s not about casting judgment on someone, or pretending that a Christian is all “high & mighty” & able to look down their nose at someone else. This is simply a spiritual fact. Those who do what God does & loves what God loves show they belong to God; those who do what the devil does show they belong to him. Jesus told the Jews this very same thing. [BIBLE: John 8:42-47]
__b. More than just non-believers; when true Christians sin we need to remember we are engaging in truly Satanic activity. Sin has its very roots in the devil, and to sin is to take part in the very things that are opposed to our Lord & King. Again – sin is not carelessness; it’s willful disregard of the law & of our Lord Jesus. We have no business flirting with it…

B. 2nd reason Jesus came incarnate: to destroy the works of the destroyer. Amen! Every single one of us WERE children of the devil (in the broader sense). WE were the ones who continued to rebel against God (just as the devil has rebelled against God from the beginning) – WE were the ones who sinned & dwelt in lawlessness. But at the cross & in the resurrection, Jesus destroyed all of those things! Jesus has the true victory! Satan may still roam about like a roaring lion, but he is ultimately defeated because Jesus is truly victorious over the enemy!

9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

A. What does it mean to be “born of God”? Jesus talked about it when speaking to Nicodemus – we need to be born both of water & of the spirit in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:5)… [] Outside of Christ, we’re all spiritually dead in our sin & transgressions (which is the reason we have no righteousness without Jesus; we’re dead!). We need Jesus to make us alive through a new birth – and when He gives us that new birth, then we can say we have been “born of God.” At that moment, we’re no longer a child of the devil, but we’ve been given the right to be called children of God (John 1:12)…
__a. Part of the good news of the gospel is that this is what God desires to do with every person on the planet! To those who are dead, God desires to give life. You can be ‘born-again’ today simply by turning away from your sins & turning to Jesus in faith, asking Him to forgive you & receiving Him as Lord.

B. John’s greater point is simply this: in our new birth, we get a new nature (that which is of the Holy Spirit). That new nature does not let us sin continually… When those who are in Christ engage in sin, it’s no longer the natural thing for us to do; it’s completely UN-natural for us (due to our new birth) & our hearts rebel against our own rebellion. Christians simply cannot sin with a clear conscience…

C. What this does NOT teach:
__a. Sinless perfection. We’ve already looked at this in detail…
__b. That what Christians do is not truly “sin.” Wrong. When we sin, it IS sin; it’s just that we cannot continually remain in that sin. The Holy Spirit simply won’t let us do it.
__c. That Christians are not responsible for their sin…i.e., since we have a new nature in Christ, anything we do of the old nature is not our responsibility. There are a couple of problems with that: (1) Things aren’t quite that dualistic. The Kingdom of God is a now/not-yet reality. We have been spiritually transformed in Christ, but we’re not in heaven yet – we still struggle with the flesh as long as we draw breath. (2) It’s precisely because we are responsible for our sin that the entire NT tells us not to do it! Paul wrote often about the war he engaged in against the flesh & how it grieved him – yet he also wrote of the sweet deliverance he found in Jesus Christ (Rom 7:24-25).

10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

A. John’s writings have a tendency of being cyclical – he finds a topic & looks at various different ways of talking about it & describing it. Here, he goes back to vs. 8 & expands it a bit. If you’re not a child of God, there’s only one other option: you’re a child of the devil…and there’s a way to tell the difference between the two.

B. 1st way to determine between children of God & the devil: look at their actions. Do they “practice righteousness”? This is what John has been looking at for most of Ch 3. How can a person’s actions generally be described? Do they reflect the righteousness of Christ – or the lawlessness of the devil? The one who “practices righteousness” (ongoing, habitual action) is a child of God.

C. 2nd way to determine the difference: look at their love. John will define & describe this love more in Ch 3-4 later, but the point here is that the love of Christ is absolutely key in knowing whether or not we are OF Christ. There are people who would claim to know Jesus – who have vast amounts of Scripture memorized – who can engage in all sorts of doctrinal debate – but yet show no love. Without love, their words are but a clanging gong…a lot of noise, but no music. It profits nothing. [] When someone truly knows the Lord Jesus Christ, then they know the love of the Lord Jesus Christ & His love will be shown in how they treat other people. It is a solid evidence of our faith in Christ. [Corrie Ten Boom & former SS guard]
__a. This is exactly what Jesus said we could look at to determine if we are a child of God – John 13:34-35 (34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (35) By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” []

D. It’s not a matter of “either/or” (either righteousness or love); it’s a matter of “both/and.” [] (Guzik) “Both of these are essential. Righteousness without love makes one a religious Pharisee, and love without righteousness makes one a partner in evil.”

11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.

A. Jesus gave us the new commandment – but the need for it isn’t new at all. It’s been around since the very beginning… [background Cain & Abel]

B. Was Cain’s work truly “evil”? After all, he did bring a sacrifice to God. But he gave God the 2nd best, which apparently were born out of his evil heart. Abel had given a pleasing, excellent sacrifice in faith (Heb 11:4); Cain did not. His offering was apparently without faith (for without faith it is impossible to please God – Heb 11:6) & whatever he brought to God was not respected by the Lord (Gen 4:5). By all indications, Cain brought to God what was left over (rather than what was 1st), and when God pointed out the difference, the lack of faith that was in Cain’s heart boiled over into hatred for his brother to the point of murder.

13 Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.

A. As when Cain hated Abel. When the world sees the righteousness of Christ upon us, it’s only natural for them to hate us because they hate Him…

14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

A. Tie it together: those who practice the love of Christ show that they belong to Christ. The world hated Christ, so they hate those who belong to Jesus. Thus when we are hated by who hated Jesus & when we love whom Jesus loves, we have a wonderful assurance of abiding in Christ. We can “know that we have passed from death to life.” We can look around & perceive this for ourselves & be assured of the work Jesus has done in us.

B. Be careful about underestimating hatred. What John writes sounds very similar to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount…even calling someone a “fool” or being angry with someone without a cause puts a person in danger of Hell (Matt 5:21-22). In the sight of God, hatred is simply murder unrealized; it shows the condition of our heart.
__a. So how’s your heart? Are you abiding in Christ or abiding in death?

Practice righteousness – practice love. It’s not a matter of talking about it or learning of it; it’s a matter of DOING it. So do it! One of the worst responses we could have to this text is to read it & think, “Oh, isn’t that nice?” It’s not just nice; it’s essential! It is only when we practice what has been proclaimed here that we have the assurance of belonging to Jesus Christ.

Beware of the tendency to read these verses & think about all the ways they apply to others. “I know THAT person isn’t practicing righteousness! … If only he/she would be loving, then he’d be more convincing as a Christian! …” The 1st place we ought to look in these exhortations is ourselves. Are WE engaging in habitual, ongoing sin? Are WE practicing holiness & right, mature living? Are WE ourselves acting in love towards others – even when they are not being loving towards us? Or are we being spiteful towards others, hating them in our hearts while speaking flattery with our lips?

Yes, John gave these exhortations to help the Church judge the false teachers among them, but judgment ALWAYS starts at home. With what measure we judge others, we will be judged… (Matt 7:1-2). Take the opportunity to examine your own heart. Where there is unrighteousness, ask for forgiveness. Where there is a lack of love, ask Jesus to give you the love you need. What John describes in Ch 3 is not a ‘perfect Christian’; it’s someone who is completely dependent upon the life & power of Jesus Christ in all things. We do what is righteous because Jesus is righteous – we love one another because Jesus loves us…we are completely dependent upon His power as we abide in Him.

Christian, our time is short – and looking around at our world, our time is getting shorter by the second. Our window of opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ with those around us is shrinking. We don’t have time to waste in petty hatefulness and habitual sin. … If that’s you, be done with it! … Take the opportunity you have now to repent & ask God the Holy Spirit for the strength & maturity to be the man or woman of God that Christ Jesus has called you to be.

The bigger question for some in this room is this: are you born of God or born of the devil? [] God wants you to “pass from death to life” & has made every provision for you in order for that to happen. In God’s great love for you, He sent Jesus Christ to suffer & die on the cross for the sins you committed, and offers you life in the resurrected life of the Lord Jesus. Jesus is alive today – Jesus is Lord today – and Jesus can be your Savior today if you only humble yourself before Him & receive Him as Lord.


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