John’s first letter teaches three significant truths about Christians and sin:

Christians are, and continue to be, sinners who sin (1:8, 10).
All of our sin/unrighteousness is forgiven through Jesus Christ and his death (1:7, 9; 2:2).
We should not continue to sin (2:1, and multiple other verses).

John knows that believers are still sinners who sin. He is not demanding sinless perfection. In fact he has stated that anyone who claims such sinlessness is deceived. He is not excluding us from salvation if we commit individual sinful actions. What he writes against is a life of on-going, habitual sinfulness.

In 3:4 -10 John writes quite strongly about the utter wrongness of sin and how sin ought not to characterize those who are children of God. In these verses John uses the present tense, referring to on-going, continuity of action: Verse 4: ‘everyone who sins’. Verse 6: ‘keeps on sinning ... continues to sin’. Verse 7: ‘does what is righteous’. Verse 8: ‘does what is sinful’. Verse 9: ‘will continue to sin ... he cannot go on sinning’. Verse 10: ‘Anyone who does not do what is right ... anyone who does not love his brother.’

The question is: what characterizes our life? Sin and lawlessness? Or righteousness and love?

John looks at the wrongness of sin from a number of perspectives.

The person and work of Jesus Christ make it clear that sin is wrong. A life of on-going, habitual sin is totally out of sync with both the person of Jesus Christ, in whom we live and whom we confess as ‘Lord’, and the work of Jesus Christ, through which we are saved. On-going, habitual sinfulness simply does not fit with a claim to know Jesus Christ.

The following truths about Jesus Christ outlaw sin:

He is righteous – 2:29; 3:7.
He is pure – 3:3.
He appeared to take away our sins – 3:5.
In him is no sin – 3:5.
He appeared to destroy the devil’s work – 3:8.

Anyone who knows the real Christ knows also that sin is always wrong. Anyone who is ‘in him’ knows that sin does not fit ‘in him’. It is totally out of place, because Christ is the very opposite of sin. The two are antagonistic. Sin is the enemy he has defeated and disempowered.

The new identity of the believer makes it clear that sin is wrong. Sin is also exposed as wrong because of the new identity of those who believe in Jesus Christ, and the new relationship with God in which they live. John tells us that those who know Christ:

Have been born of God – 2:29; 3:9.
Are children of God – 3:1, 2, 10.
Have the sure expectation/hope of one day being like Jesus – 3:2.
Live in him – 3:6.
Have seen and known him – 3:6.
God’s seed remains in them – 3:9.

Sin is inconsistent with all of these truths about the believer. Believers owe their existence as children of God to God. Believers live in God. Believers know God. Believers are born of God. Sin is at loggerheads with both their new identity and the Source of their new identity.

The nature and source of sin and evil make it clear that sin is wrong. John puts sin in opposition to God. It is sin that Jesus came to ‘take away’ and to ‘destroy’. For a person who claims to know God to continue to embrace sin does not make any sense, for the two – God and sin – are diametrically opposed to each other. Sin is the devil’s work. Sin comes from God’s enemy. John points this out strongly:

Sin is lawlessness – 3:4.
Whoever does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning – 3:8.
It is the children of the devil who do not do what is right – 3:10.
It is the children of the devil who do not love – 3:10.

A life of habitual sinfulness and a claim to know and to belong to God simply don’t go together. The first denies the second. They cannot go together, because sin comes from the devil, not from God.

John’s sees it this way: It is one thing to commit individual sinful actions. All Christians do that, even though they should not. It is an entirely different thing to live a life of on-going, habitual sin. Such a life, says John, denies any verbal claim to believe in Jesus Christ.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022