Preached at the San Diego Rescue Mission on Wednesday morning, October 18, 2017.
I was reading a quote this week that said, “Change requires energy.” We want change, but doing what it takes to change is hard. We try to change our diet, but having to walk by those cakes and cookies every day? Hard! We try to stop smoking, but walking by those smokers on the deck every day? Hard! Spiritual change is hard. Spiritual change requires God to make the change. A life in Christ is a completely changed life.
Some of you have started the Up and Running program at the Mission. Running will change you. You guys will start to see that belly fat go down. We have had guys lose 50 pounds or more! Getting up and running 3-4 times a week requires energy. But it’s a good change.
I started running. I started 5 minutes running, 5 minutes walking. The change started happening. Soon, I was running longer distances. I didn’t think I would make it running 3 miles. I did! I remember how accomplished I felt. After I ran 3 miles, I pushed it to 4, and then 5. My body started to change. I could run for longer distances, was breathing better, and losing weight.
When I ran my first 5K, that was fun! I was amazed at how, through the energy I was putting out, a physical change was happening to me. I was enjoying being a runner!
I ran the half-marathon, and finished it. That was exciting! I had lost a lot of weight by that point. The energy that I put out for months created this great, physical change in me. I felt better. I pushed myself a bit too hard at the half marathon though. I hurt my knee. It’s getting better, but weight has come back on since I stopped running. Not a big fan of weight coming back. I know that I will have to use my energy to start running and exercising again.
Sometimes, we don’t want to exert the energy needed to make change happen. We don’t want to do what it takes to make changes. The energy seems hard. We try to find some other way to make it happen, some shortcut. But change doesn’t happen according to what we want. We need spiritual change. There is only one way to change, and it requires Christ. A life in Christ is a completely changed life.
If you are in Christ, you will not make a habit of sin.
The first thing that John will tell us in this passage is that, if you are in Christ, you will not make a habit of sin. If you are in Christ, you will not make a habit of sin.
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 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. 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. 1 John 3:4-9
John reminds us that Jesus Christ came to take away sin, and in Him there is no sin. Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life. There was no sin within Him. In fact, He challenged the people of His day to locate a sin within Him:
Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? John 8:46
So, from these two facts: (1) Jesus came to take away sin, and (2) in Jesus Christ, there is no sin, John comes to a conclusion that is one of the most challenging statements in scripture.
You know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. 1 John 3:5
What does John mean by saying Christians do not sin? What does he mean by that? It doesn’t make sense. In fact, we know the exact opposite. Christians sin. They mess up. They make mistakes. It’s even in Christian bumper stickers that you can buy at the Christian bookstore: “Christians aren’t perfect… just forgiven.” Christians are still in their flesh, and they make mistakes.
John even seems to contradict his own statement about Christians not sinning. In 1 John 1, starting in verse 8, he says:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 1:8-2:1
So what does John mean when he says, “whoever abides in Him does not sin?” First, the word that John uses here translated “sin” is something that is present and active. It is continually happening. The sin is in a continual process.
Second, the context also gives us a clue as to John’s intention on his discussion of sin. The sinner is like the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. How does the devil sin? He is in a continuous, habitual, constant habit of sinning. What John is saying is that the Christian does not make a habit of sin, like the devil does.
Suppose you know a man. This man was a horrible man who went around raping people. Then the man starts saying that he is a Christian. He starts saying how he is going to church now, and believes in Jesus. But the man continues the life he was living, and continues to rape people. There is nothing in the man that seems to tell him that his behavior is wrong. Is that man a Christian? No, of course not. How could he be?
That was easy. But now, suppose you know a man. This man is a habitual liar. Everything he says is a lie. Then the man starts saying that he is a Christian. He starts saying how he is going to church, and believes in Jesus. But the man continues to be a habitual liar. There is no change, everything he says continues to be a lie. Is that man a Christian? The answer is no. The Christianity was probably a lie, built on top of the other lies.
This is the point: Christianity is a supernatural work, that shows evidence through your life. You don’t become a Christian so you can start being good. You become a Christian because you can’t do it on your own. You become a Christian because you are lost, and need salvation. You become a Christian because you need to know God. God is the one who does the supernatural work inside your life. He is the one that does the changing. And when the God of real reality comes into your life, it is an amazing experience of real change.
So, this is what happens. You were living a life of sin against God. Your heart had grown cold and callous. You were breaking the commandments of God, and it never really bothered you. You lied, you cheated, you lusted, you hated others, you lived life the way the world does.
Then, one day, you are confronted with Christ. You realize how miserable your life has been, and realize that you need to know God. You seek God through faith in Christ. Through faith, you believe in Jesus, and make Him the Lord of your life. You get excited! You start praying, start reading your Bible. You get this sense that the Spirit of God is moving in your life through your faith in Jesus. The Spirit of God is as real in your life as air, or wind, or oxygen, or anything else.
Then one day you slip into old habits. You lie, or maybe you cheat on something. You immediately become convicted. This same thing in your old life would never have bothered you. But now, there is this strong conviction in your life that something is terribly wrong. You know that you shouldn’t have done what you did. You repent, seek God, and He corrects your path.
The other day, I was playing with my iPhone. I found out about this app on YouTube that allowed you to type 280 characters on Twitter. (You are only supposed to be able to type 140 characters on Twitter.) I thought that was interesting, so I downloaded the app. Then, the app started showing other hacks. It had a Spotify app that you could download. So, I downloaded it. As I played it, I realized that it was giving me music for free, with no commercials. That is usually a service that you have to pay $9.99 a month for, but this hacked app was giving the service for free. It started to bother me. This was stealing. There was a feeling in my chest, a conscience that was telling me that this was wrong. I not only deleted the app, but decided to reset my entire phone.
In the Christian life, our walk with Christ is more important, more valuable than the “joy” any sin, no matter how big or small, can bring. We don’t want the temporary joy of sin that only leads to chaos. We want the eternal joy of real life in Christ, that starts at the moment you believe in Him. The faith God gives you brings new life in Him.
John talks about the world through two lenses: the children of God, and the children of the devil. You say, “Jason, do you mean to tell me that if I don’t believe in Jesus, I am a child of the devil? I am a good person!”
We have a funny definition of what good is, don’t we? At every funeral, no matter what the person’s lifestyle was, somehow the person will have been a good person. We send everyone to heaven. Everyone except the people we don’t’ like. There are a few really bad people in hell, like Hitler, or some mass serial killer. But in general, we say that people are generally good, maybe just misguided, but good. Especially us. We are good people.
This is what the Bible says: The Bible says that all people have messed up. All people are bad, have sinned, and fallen short of God. All people lived lives like the devil, lives that are not obedient to God, lives that are full of sin. We were all spiritually dead, like the devil is. We were all sinners, like the devil is.
But Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. Christ came to resurrect dead people. Christ came to take back what the devil tried to take from God. Christ came for His people. Christ came to give people real life, a real hope. Christ came so that you don’t have to live a life lost in sin. You can now live a new life in Christ, because of what He did for you. If you are in Christ, you are His, and He shines His glory through you.
A life in Christ is a completely changed life. If you are in Christ, you will not make a habit of sin. You can’t. His resurrected new life is too precious to miss out on. When we mess up, we repent, because we don’t pursue the sin of this world. We need Christ, His life.
If you are in Christ, you will love others.
Second, John tells us that if you are in Christ, you will love others. If you are in Christ, you will love others.
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. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 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. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 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. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:10-15
John says that there has been a continual message present in the life of Christ. He sacrificed Himself, and loved people. He loved us, and gave up His life for us. That love that He had, should also come out in us. It is the greatest commandment, to love God with all our heart, and to love others as we love ourselves. We should love others.To describe what he means here, he uses the example of Cane and Abel. Turn to Genesis chapter 4, where the story of Cane and Abel is. John says that in this story, we see the different types of hearts that exist in this world.
It may have been a clear day when these brothers met. This is shortly after Eden, so the earth is still fresh. They weren’t living in Eden, but the grass was still lush, the hills were amazing, the rivers were flowing. These two brothers had taken some earth, some stones, and built an altar to God.
They had learned from their parents what God had done in Eden. They had heard the stories of how beautiful life was in Eden. They learned how God had provided the first clothes for them. He had to kill an animal. It was horrible, the first death they experienced. That death clothed them. It was a sacrifice that had to be done to atone for their sin. God had taught them, in that moment, that He required a blood sacrifice.
So, these two brothers came to offer a sacrifice to God. Abel was a shepherd, and thought hard about what his sacrifice to God would be. “I am going to give God the best sacrifice that I have, according to what He has required. I am going to give him the best animal I have, my firstborn animal, and bring the most precious part, its fat, for the sacrifice.”
When Cane came to bring his sacrifice, he remembered what his parents had told him happened in Eden. He remembered the story of the animal that was killed for sin. But, he thought, “Eh, I’ll just bring what I have. I’ll bring some of my crops. That’s good enough.”
Starting in Genesis 4:3:
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. “So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. Genesis 4:3-11
Abel had a heart that wanted to bring the best that he had for God. He had a heart filled with faith. He knew that if he brought the best that he had, if he sacrificed the best animal in his flock, God could create 100 more animals better than what he was sacrificing. He trusted in God, and was obedient to God’s command.
Cane was disobedient. He had a heart that didn’t trust God. He didn’t have faith in God’s promise. He didn’t trust that God could provide what he needed. He didn’t trust God enough to obey him. He tried to be good enough on his own. Cane had a sinful heart.
This is what John is talking about in 1 John 3. There are those who have a faith-filled heart. Christians take God at His word. Christians believe in God’s promises. They believe in Christ, believe in the eternal life that He brings. They trust God, and sacrifice the best they have for God because they know He will provide.
The world doesn’t trust God. The world doesn’t trust in God’s promises, and doesn’t want to obey God. Like the devil, like Cane, all people are disobedient to God. They have sinful hearts. People need salvation to have a heart of faith like Abel. John says that there is evidence of a faith-filled heart. That evidence is shown in a heart that is inclined to love his brother. We show our love for Christ by the way that we love others.
The Bible says that we can know if we are walking with Christ by the way we love people. If we hate people who are made in the image of God, how can we say that we love God? If we find that our hearts are full of hatred, we must ask ourselves if we are Christians. We must evaluate our hearts, repent of the hate that we have, and turn to Christ.
“But, I can’t stand this person!” Love them. “But, these people hate me!” Love them. “But, Jason, you don’t understand, you don’t know what they have done to me!” I am not saying that this is easy. I am not saying that you can do this on your own. I am not saying that you can try, and try to be so good, that eventually love starts coming out. Our efforts are worthless if they are not grounded in the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. The Spirit of God is the one that loves. He causes us to forgive others. He causes us to heal broken relationships. He causes us to love others. He causes us to be new creations, new people, filled with the love of God, love for Him, and love for others.
I don’t know who God is calling you to love today. What I do know is that a Christian life is filled with love. He calls you to love your enemy, because we were all enemies of God, but He loved us anyway.
A life in Christ is a completely changed life. If you are in Christ, you will love others.