Holiness and Victory Over Sin, Part 16
by Karl Kemp
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Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you; we want to rightly divide your Word; we want to understand it; we want to live in line with your Word by your sufficient grace. Thank you for full salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray in His mighty name. Amen!
Last time when we stopped we were discussing 1 John 1:8. This is a very important verse. Most Christians, something like 80-90 percent of Christians, believe this verse proves we can never stop sinning in this life. As I have mentioned, I believe they are making a serious mistake. The apostle John wrote 1 John 1:8 against the Gnostic heretics, not against Christians who thought they could have the victory over sin. The Gnostic heretics denied that sin was the problem, and they denied that the blood of Jesus is the answer. They denied they were sinners, and they denied the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m very sure that John was dealing with the Gnostic heretics in 1 John 1:8.
I’m going to turn back to 1 John 1:5-7 and read these verses and make several comments for a brief review. “And this is the message we have heard from Him [from the Lord Jesus Christ] and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. [God’s light includes His truth, His righteousness, and His holiness.] (6) If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth [These words were aimed at the Gnostic heretics. They claimed to have fellowship with God; they claimed that they had received the true gospel from God, but they were walking in the darkness; they didn’t have God’s truth, or His righteousness or holiness.]; (7) but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” If we are walking in the light with God, we will have fellowship with one another, with the other Christians walking in the light, and that certainly excluded the Gnostic heretics, who were not walking in the light.
“AND THE BLOOD OF JESUS HIS SON CLEANSES US FROM ALL SIN.” These words at the end of verse 7 are extremely important. Most Christians interpret these words to mean our past sins are washed away and now we have a clean slate with God. That much is true, and forgiveness is provided for Christians when they repent, but I’ll guarantee you that these words mean more than that. We discussed these words in some detail last time. The Greek verb translated “cleanses” here is “katharizo.” Last time we looked at three verses in the New Testament (but there are more than three verses) where this Greek verb is used of a transforming/sanctifying type cleansing or purifying. In other words, the blood of Jesus is so powerful that is can cleanse our hearts and lives so we stop sinning. That cleansing/purifying of our hearts and lives is a dominant theme of the New Testament. 1 Peter 2:24, for example, “He bore our sins in His body on the cross [He bore our sins with the guilt and the penalties, including the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin], that we might die to sin and live to righteousness….” Or, Romans chapter 6. The dominant theme of Romans chapter 6 is that we are called to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have that great privilege. A walk in the righteousness and holiness of God is not automatic, but by grace through faith, we are enabled to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God. Or, Romans chapter 8. The same good news: because of the atoning death of Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we are set free from spiritual death and from being slaves of sin, and now we are called, enabled, and required to live in the righteousness and holiness of God. I’ll read thee glorious words at the end of 1 John 1:7 one more time, “and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
1 John 1:8. “If we say that we have no sin [That’s exactly what the Gnostic heretics would say in response to what the apostle John just said at the end of verse 7: “We don’t need the blood of Christ; we don’t believe in that. We are not sinners; we don’t have sin; that isn’t our problem.”], we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Now I’m going to turn to page 203 of my book. This is where we stopped last time. We were ready to discuss the words, “we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” These strong words were aimed at the heretics, not Christians who thought that they were living in victory over sin. The heretics were deceived and they were trying to deceive others (1 John 2:26; compare 1 John 3:7) I’ll read 1 John 2:26, “These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” The Gnostic heretics were trying to get the true Christians to join them in their heresy. I also referred to 1 John 3:7 here, which is a very important reference, “Little children [John was speaking to all the true Christians.], let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness [or, the one who is doing righteousness] is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous.” We’ll discuss 1 John 3:7 later.
I’ll continue to read what I said under the words “we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” of 1 John 1:8. The truth was not in them (the Gnostic heretics); they were in the darkness, as the apostle says repeatedly in this epistle. To me it seems obvious that the apostle John intended these words of 1 John 1:8 to apply to the heretics. This epistle was written to refute this particular heresy, and every chapter deals to a significant extent with this heresy. There is widespread agreement in our day that the First Epistle of John deals with the Gnostic heresy, but the problem is that most Christians don’t apply this information at 1 John 1:8.
We come to a sub-heading, “Commentators on 1 John 1:8.” It is common for those who write from a holiness/victory over sin perspective to agree that 1 John 1:8 does not teach that Christians cannot have the victory over sin. In addition to John Wesley and the two commentators I’ll quote below (after 1 John 1:10), see, for example, Charles Finney in Finney’s Systematic Theology, chapter 36. I wrote this book some 19 years ago. If I were writing it now I would add quite a few more commentators.
1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [or, from all wrongdoing].” “If we confess our sins.” I believe these words, which build on 1 John 1:5-8, were meant to apply to the heretics. They have a general application, but I believe the apostle John was thinking of the heretics when he wrote these words. They were not confessing their sins; they were denying that they needed to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (see 1 John 1:6-8, 10; 3:7; and 5:6).
“and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [or, wrongdoing].” “To cleanse” is a translation of “katharizo,” the verb used in 1:7. We discussed this very important verb in some detail under 1:7. “To cleanse [or, to purify] us from all unrighteousness” is to transform us/make us righteous. This cleansing goes far beyond the forgiveness of sins, which was mentioned earlier in 1:9. The Greek noun “adikia,” which is translated “unrighteousness” here, could just as well be translated “wrongdoing” or “wickedness.” To be cleansed from all adikia is to be transformed/made righteous. God who is righteous (“dikaios”) removes the unrighteousness (adikia) from the hearts and lives of those who submit to Him through the gospel and makes them righteous (dikaios).
On being righteous see, for example, 1 John 2:29 and 3:7. I’ll read 1 John 3:7 again. It is a very important verse. “Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness (or, the one who is doing righteousness) is righteous, just as He is righteous.” The one who is doing righteousness is righteous. Christians are called to walk in the very righteousness of God, which certainly includes walking with the victory over all sin. Christians walk in the righteousness of God by grace through faith, in accordance with the terms of the new covenant. There is a strong emphasis in this epistle on the fact that true Christians live in righteousness and holiness (see 1 John 1:6, 7; 2:1, 3-11, 15-17, 28, 29; 3:1-24; 4:7-21; 5:1-5, 16-21).
1 John 1:10. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” God is on record saying that all have sinned (see, for example Acts 4:12; 17:30, 31; Rom. 3:9-20, 23; 11:32; and Gal. 3:22). These heretics, however, denied that hey had sinned. They clearly were not basing their opinion on the Scriptures. True Christians would not say we have not sinned. This verse helps confirm that 1 John 1:8 and 9 were also dealing with the heretics, not with true Christians. God is on record saying that all men are sinners and need to be saved from sin through the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning blood; but as far as I know, He is not on record saying that Christians will necessarily continue to sin. That’s a very important point!
Now we come to the heading, “Several Quotations regarding 1 John 1:7-10.” I’ll quote part of what Adam Clarke said under 1 John 1:7, 8 and 9, “Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible,” abridged by Ralph Earle, published by Baker in 1967. Adam Clarke was an associate of John Wesley in the 1700s. Under 1 John 1:7 he says (in part), and he is commenting on the words, “the blood of Jesus Christ.” “The meritorious efficacy of His passion and death has purged our consciences from dead works, and cleanseth us, ‘continues to cleanse us,’ that is, to keep clean what it has made clean. And being cleansed from all sin is what every believer should look for, what he has a right to expect, and what he must have in this life in order to be prepared to meet his God. Christ is not a partial Savior; He saves to the uttermost, and He cleanses from all sin.” Adam Clarke comes on pretty strong. I’ll read a sentence that I have later on the page, “I should mention that in the days of Adam Clarke, who died in 1832, the controversy regarding holiness and victory over sin was quite heated.”
Under 1 John 1:8 Adam Clarke says (in part); he is commenting on the words, “If we say that we have no sin.” “This is tantamount [or, the equivalent] to verse 10: ‘If we say that we have not sinned.’ ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ [Rom. 3:23]; and therefore every man needs a Saviour, such as Christ is. It is very likely that the heretics, against whose evil doctrine the apostle writes, denied that they had any sin or needed any Saviour. [At least they denied they needed a Savior from sin.] Indeed the Gnostics even denied that Christ suffered [In other words, they denied the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ.] Now he comments on the words, “we deceive ourselves.” “By supposing that we have no guilt, no sinfulness, and consequently have no need of the blood of Christ as an atoning sacrifice.”
Under 1 John 1:9, Adam Clarke says (in part); he is commenting on the words, “And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” “Not only to forgive the sin, but to purify the heart. … As all unrighteousness is sin, so he that is cleansed from all unrighteousness is cleansed from all sin. To attempt to evade this, and plead for the continuance of sin in the heart through life, is ungrateful, wicked, and even blasphemous [Like I said he comes on pretty strong]; for as he who says he has not sinned, verse 10, makes God a liar, who has declared the contrary through every part of His revelation; so he that says the blood of Christ either cannot or will not cleanse us from all sin in this life gives also the lie to his Maker, who has declared the contrary, and thus shows that the word, the doctrine of God is not in him. Reader, it is the birthright of every child of God to be cleansed from all sin, to keep himself unspotted from the world, and so to live as nevermore to offend his Maker. All things are possible to him that believes, because all things are possible to the infinitely meritorious blood and energetic Spirit of the Lord Jesus.”
I’ll quote part of what Leo Cox said in a subsection titled “Failure to Be in the Light Brings Self-Deception” (he is discussing 1 John 1:6, 8, and 10); “Wesleyan Bible Commentary,” volume 6 of the 6 volume set, published by Hendrickson, it is a 1986 reprint. “Though his words may be misinterpreted, the writer is not contradicting himself in verses 7 and 8. He has claimed the cleansing of the blood for all sin (in verse 7). To state that claim is not the denial of sin; it is the acknowledgment of the sin, and of the full victory over it. Careful exegesis will avoid applying the condemnation of verse 8 to those who make humble claim of the promise in verse 7. When a Christian obtains the victory of full cleansing, and gives God the glory for this victory, he is not deceiving himself; he is honoring the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin. … Again, it is erroneous to apply this statement [of 1 John 1:8] to those who claim God’s victory over their sin by His grace. Christians do not deny the possibility of sinning, or the need for their ‘Advocate with the Father’ [referring to 1 John 2:1]. Christians do not claim that they have not sinned; they know that they have. However, they rely upon the grace of God that now keeps them from sinning and will keep them from sinning. … Of course, Christians do not boast of sinlessness; they boast of Jesus Christ, and His victory for them and in them.”
I’ll also quote several sentences from what Leo Cox said under the subheading, “Confession Brings Forgiveness and Cleansing” (referring to 1 John 1:9). “One should never lay any limitation upon God’s power to accomplish in His children the promise of full cleansing from sin through the blood of Christ. Any excuse for or allowance of the continuance of sin in the life of the believer is contrary to God’s will for Christians and places a limitation upon the power of the cross of Jesus.” I’ll say Amen! to that.
1 John 2:1, 2. (I’m on page 206 of my book. First I’ll read the verses. I used the New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition in my book.) “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; (2) and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
I’ll comment on the words, “I am writing these things to you that you may not sin” of 1 John 2:1. These words are very important. As many have pointed out, the aorist tense of the Greek verb for sin here helps show that the apostle’s meaning is, THAT YOU MAY NOT COMMIT AN ACT OF SIN. That sounds good, doesn’t it? That’s what we want, isn’t it? I’ll read part of endnote 10 on pages 218, 219; Donald W. Burdick, “Letters of John the Apostle,” published by Moody press in 1985 says the following regarding the meaning of the words, “that you may not sin.” “Rather than to permit or encourage sin, John’s purpose was to combat it. The Greek verb used here (from the verb “hamartano,” which means “I sin”) is an ingressive aorist indicating that the apostle does not want his readers ever to commit even one act of sin. … John is…aiming at the eradication of every act of sin.” That’s very important. In 1 John 2:1 the apostle John was exhorting his readers to never commit another act of sin. That’s the ideal, and it is not some way out, unrealistic ideal.
Now I’ll turn back to page 206 of my book. As many have pointed out, the aorist tense of the Greek verb for sin here helps show that the apostle’s meaning is that you may not commit an act of sin. Verses like 1 John 2:3-6; 2:28-3:12; and 1:6, 7, and 9 help confirm this interpretation. These words in 1 John 2:1, by themselves, should probably suffice to show that the apostle was not denying the possibility of full victory over sin in 1 John 1:8. That’s a weighty point
Now we’ll discuss the words, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” of 1 John 2:1. I pointed out that the NIV has “But” in place of “And” here. As in the first part of this verse, the verb for sins is in the aorist tense. Here the apostle deals with the possibility (certainly not the necessity) of a Christian committing occasional acts of sin. The full restoration after any such act of sin comes through our Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, on the basis of His atoning death, when we repent.
Under 1 John 2:2 I said, the Lord Jesus Christ died for all men (see 1 Tim. 2:3-6, for example), but each person must appropriate the benefits of His atoning death through repentance and faith.
1 John 2:3-6. “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (4) The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; (5) but whoever keeps His word [which includes keeping His commandments], in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: (6) the one who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same manner as He walked.” Did you hear that? “The one who says he abides in Him [in the Lord Jesus Christ] ought to walk in the same manner as He walked.” We can all agree that the Lord Jesus Christ did not sin. These verses strongly confirm that Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the total victory over sin. Talk about good news! These verses also further demonstrate that the heretics didn’t really know God, no matter what they claimed for themselves.
I commented on 1 John 2:3, 4. The apostle John makes it clear in these verses that true Christians do keep God’s commandments. They walk in His righteousness (see, for example, 1 John 2:5, 6, 29; 3:3-12, 22-24; 5:2-4, 18, 19; John 14:15, 21; 15:10; Rom. 8:4; 2:26, 27). Surely John had the heretics in mind in verse 4, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” The heretics claimed to know God, but the fact that they didn’t keep His commandments demonstrated that they didn’t really know Him.
I’ll read 1 John 2:5 again, “but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.” First I commented on the words, “whoever keeps His word.” To keep God’s word here in verse 5 is probably the equivalent of keeping His commandments in verses 3 and 4. (Compare the use of the words “word” and “commandments” in 1 John 2:7, 8 and in the Gospel of John 14:15, 21, 23, and 24.) The primary commandment is to walk in love (see, for example, 1 John 2:7-11; 3:10-12, 14-24; 4:7-21; 5:1-3; Matt. 22:34-40; John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-15; and James 2:8). Christians must love God, but they must also love the children of God. This epistle of John emphasizes both of these aspects of love.
“in Him the love of God has truly been perfected" (1 John 2:5). 1 John 4:12 helps us understand the meaning of these words, "if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us." (Also see 1 John 4:7.) God’s love is in Christians by His indwelling Spirit. Remember that the first fruit of the Holy Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Gal. 5:22, 23 is love. To the extent Christians walk by God’s Word and by His Spirit (which they are called to do on a continuous basis), they will manifest God’s love; His love is perfected in them.
God’s love has always been perfect, but it is not perfected in the Christian until the Christian walks in love on a continuous basis. A walk by the Holy Spirit is not automatic. Remember Gal. 5:16; Paul exhorts His born-again Christian readers to always walk by the Holy Spirit so they will not sin. When we become Christians we are enabled, and required, by covenant (the new covenant) to always walk by the Spirit through faith. The apostle John is not speaking of some unattainable level of love, but of a level that even a newly converted Christian can walk in, being enabled by God’s grace and Spirit. This walk in love is a major part of the ideal state of righteousness and holiness that we are discussing in this chapter of my book.
I’ll read 1 John 2:6 again, “the one who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same manner as He walked.” The apostle John undoubtedly wrote these words (at least in part) to help show that the heretics were not really abiding in God, no matter what they claimed for themselves (see, for example, 1 John 1:6; 2:3-5; and 3:6). It would be difficult to imagine a higher call to holiness and righteous living than the call expressed in this verse. Every true Christian is called to abide in God and to walk in the same manner that Jesus Christ walked. (See, for example, 1 John 3:3-7; 4:17.) All true Christians will agree that Jesus walked above sin.
What a powerful statement of the fact that Christians are called and enabled to walk with total victory over sin. This one verse by itself should suffice to show that the apostle John was not saying in 1 John 1:8 that if Christians say they are walking with the total victory over sin they are deceiving themselves. And, significantly, this epistle is filled with similar verses. For example, in 1:7 the apostle spoke of the blood of Jesus cleansing, or purifying, us from all sin. And as we discussed, the Greek verb used for cleansing/purifying in 1:7 is often used in the New Testament (as it is used in 1:7) of a sanctifying type of cleansing of the hearts and lives, which enables us to live in the righteousness and holiness of God. And the same verb is used the same way in 1:9, where John spoke of God’s forgiving us AND cleansing us from all unrighteousness, or wrongdoing. In 2:1 the apostle said he was writing these things so his Christian readers would not commit an act of sin, that is, so that they would not sin at all. In chapter 2, verses 3 and 4 John emphasized the point that true Christians keep God’s commandments. In 2:5 he spoke of true Christians keeping God’s Word and of His love being perfected in them. In 2:29 he spoke of the fact that born-again Christians practice, or do righteousness, the very righteousness of God their Father. In 3:3 the apostle John spoke of our purifying ourselves just as God is pure. And in 3:7 he spoke of Christians practicing or doing righteousness, just as God is righteous. There are quite a few more similar verses in this epistle, but I’ll just take time to read 1 John 3:8-12; I’ll read these verses from the NIV, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are. Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”
God bless you! His name be glorified! His will be done in each one of us! In Jesus’ mighty name! Amen!
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