1 John series: (post #10)
Some people say, “There’s no way you can know for sure that you are saved because only God knows who is saved and who isn’t.” These folks have surely missed the purpose of the book of 1 John. The writer himself, the apostle John, says of the book, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, N.I.V.). Knowing that you have eternal life is the same as knowing that you are saved and on your way to heaven.
We are now coming down the home stretch of our blog series from 1 John, a series in which we’ve been listing ten of the salvation evidences that John names. This post will be all about evidence #8 from that list. I’ll call this one “purifying yourself from sin.”
John talks about this evidence in just one passage from 1 John, but the passage is an extended one. It’s 1 John 3:2-10, and it reads as follows.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself (boldfaced emphasis mine), just as He is pure. 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. 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. (N.K.J.V.)
Well, all of that is a mouthful, so let’s pick the passage apart by by pulling out some key thoughts from it. First, in verse 3, John says that everyone who has the hope of seeing Jesus just as He is (and that’s a reference to Christians) purifies himself. Second, the beginning of verse 6 says: “Whoever abides in Him (Jesus) does not sin…” Third, the beginning of verse 8 says: “He who sins is of the devil…” Fourth, the beginning of verse 9 says: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin…” Fifth, verse 10 teaches that lost people (people who aren’t children of God) do not practice righteousness.
And so what exactly is John teaching in all this? Does he mean that the true Christian will never commit even one sin after getting saved? No. We know that he doesn’t mean that because in 1 John 1:8-10 of this same book he tells Christians what to do when they do sin. Obviously, then, when he makes statements such as, “Whoever abides in Christ does not sin” or “Whoever has been born of God does not sin,” he’s not describing some kind of sinless perfection the Christian will live out on a daily basis.
Instead, the context of these statements is the key to understanding them. They come on the heels of the chapter’s 3rd verse, which tells us that everyone who has the hope of seeing Jesus face to face when He is “revealed” (N.K.J.V., N.R.S.V.) or “appears” (N.A.S.V., N.I.V., H.C.S.B., E.S.V., N.L.T.) purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure. The point is, the statements all elaborate on the idea of the Christian purifying himself or herself.
By keeping John’s train of thought in sequence, we see what he is saying. He’s saying that the true Christian will work continually (day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade) at purifying himself for the purpose of becoming more and more like Jesus. And as a natural evidence of that ongoing purification, that person’s life will be marked by righteousness rather than unrighteousness. The older that person gets, the more like Jesus he or she will become, which will inevitably translate to less and less sin in the person’s life. At least that’s how the Christian life is designed to work.
Admittedly, even the Bible indicates that it doesn’t always work that way. The scriptural examples of this inconvenient truth are numerous. The Christians of Corinth were an unholy mess who had a scandalous reputation. Jesus rebuked the church of Ephesus by saying to them, “You have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). He rebuked the church of the Laodiceans by saying to them, “….because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). Paul made no bones about the fact that Demas had fallen in love with the world and forsaken him (2 Timothy 4:10). These examples and others that could be named prove that even genuine Christians don’t always do a good job of purifying themselves (sinning less and less) to make themselves more like Jesus.
Still, though, John’s contention is that this is how the Christian life should work. In other words, this is what normal Christianity looks like. Therefore, show me a professing Christian who has no interest whatsoever in purifying himself or herself and attempting to become more and more like Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who has a right to doubt his or her salvation.
Will us true Christians ever purify ourselves to the point of living lives completely free from sin? Nope, that won’t happen as long as we are confined to these earthly bodies of ours, bodies marred by the inborn Adamic sin nature. Ah, but there is coming a day when Jesus will appear to us — that day when we will see Him as He is — and John says, “On that day we will be like Him.”
If we live to see the moment of the Rapture, we will see Jesus “as He is” in the sky above the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). On the other hand, if we die before the Rapture occurs, we will see Him “as He is” in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:21-23). Either way, when we see Him, our work of purifying ourselves will be finished. Until then, though, every honest-to-goodness Christian will have a basic desire to keep working at the job. He or she might not always act in accordance with that desire, but, nonetheless, the desire will always be there to some degree.