A gracEmail subscriber forwards a post by someone who argues that a true Christian never sins but always does what is right, quoting 1 John 2:3-4 and 3:6-10 as proof. “What about that?” my correspondent asks.
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The message of First John is clear and convicting: if we claim to be God’s children, we must “walk” in God’s light and not in sin’s darkness (1 John 1:5-7). Yet we are not without sin or above sin, and anyone who makes such a claim is self-deceived and makes God a liar (1 John 1:8, 10). One blessing of “walking in the light” is continual cleansing from all sin by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7). The person who “walks in the light” is therefore someone who still needs cleansing — in other words, someone who has sinned. However, this person’s “walk” is not characterized by sin, but rather by obedience and holiness. There is an enormous difference between a step and a walk.
Some in John’s day argued that the spirit is holy even when the body sins, and that disobedience to God is unimportant. John rejected that in the strongest terms. The person who “abides” in Christ and who knows God through Christ, he insists, makes a practice of obeying God, and that person does not make a practice of sinning as a way of life. John uses present tense verbs and participles to make such statements, emphasizing the ongoing, continual nature of the conduct described (1 John 2:3-4; 3:6-10).
John’s express reason for writing this first epistle is to assure those who believe in the name of the Son of God that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). This life is in the Son, and we enjoy it by trusting in Jesus Christ as our “propitiation” and our “advocate” with the Father, not by trusting in our own ability to maintain a spotless record before God (1 John 5:11-12; 2:1-2). “Perfectionism,” or claiming always to live above sin, is nothing less than heretical, according to John. And it eventually leads either to disillusionment and loss of faith (if we face the truth about ourselves), or to self-deceit and arrogance (if we do not).