Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 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. 9 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. 10 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 3:4-10
I was privileged to travel to Moscow, Russia in 1993. It was a remarkable experience during which time we shared the Good News of Jesus, met some wonderful Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, and had the opportunity to impact the people there with gifts of medical care, financial help, and Christian literature.
I was also able to preach in a Russian church one Sunday. I recall sharing the gospel with the people in that small church in a town somewhere east of Moscow – about 45 minutes by train (a very cold trip!). We managed a conversation during the ride home, with the help of a Russian translator, and I learned his story. Escape from prison by swimming through an icy cold lake, conversion to Christ, and calling to ministry.
His message, I thought, leaned heavily on the Law: what people needed to do and not do. He was strong in his admonition to the people in his church was much about living godly lives and forsaking immoral living. Apparently these were very real challenges and sins plaguing these Russian people.
I think of that man and the conversation we had when I read these words from John. He was speaking to people who apparently were faced with some strong temptations and had sinful opportunities all around them. He told them that part and parcel of faith in Jesus is a lifestyle that honors him and rejects sin.
The issue was apparently so urgent that he makes the point that those who practice sin are children of the devil. He has already spoken of the fact that the people to whom he wrote were children of God. Now was the urgent need to be true to that identity.
Perhaps we are a bit insulated from such concerns. Sin, however, crouches at our door, and Satan is willing to be as subtle as needed to get us in his grip. John is not saying that we never sin; he’s already laid that idea to rest in 1 John 1:8-9. But he is saying that our identity as children of God will shape our lives by obedience to God’s law. Such shaping will express wholehearted love for God and true love for our neighbor – all because of God’s love for us in his Son. Empowered by his Holy Spirit we honor God by loving him with all we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves.