To Not Sin
In the first of John’s general epistles, he speaks to the reader about the things which will help them to live in Christ, free from sin. He writes in the beginning that it is necessary for us to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7) that we might have fellowship with God, and if we do not walk in the light, “we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). He also writes, though, that it is without question that we do sin (1 John 1:8-10). What should not be lost here is that there is a difference between the occasional sin and ‘walking in darkness.’
And to help them from committing the ‘occasional sin,’ John writes this first epistle to the early disciples. Immediately after he reminds the brethren [and us] that none are without sin, he tells us he writes these things “so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). It is clear that John’s purpose in writing is to build them [and us] up in the word to a point of not necessarily immunity to sin, but to a condition where sin’s lure has less of a pull, and to a strength in knowledge and wisdom that we might overcome those temptations and not sin against God. Where James has outlined for us the progress from lusts [desires] to sin to death (Jas. 1:13-15), and Paul tells us that for every temptation there is a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), John writes that we might know how to control our desires and that we might find the way of escape. With all of these together, the apostolic writers are giving us the means by which we may defeat the tempter and live as faithful servants of our Lord.
So, what instruction and help has John given us, by Divine inspiration?
Keep His Commandments. Right after telling the early disciples about why he was writing, he then got right to the message, saying, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3, 4). Now, since one who keeps His commandments is, by the very definition of sin (1 John 3:4), not sinning, then this is the most obvious means of not sinning. He would later add, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him” (1 John 3:24); and if that was not clear enough, John also wrote, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin” (1 John 3:6).
Abiding in Christ means we are keeping His commandments, and it means we are not sinning. Obviously, from what John wrote (ref. 1 John 1:8, 10), he is not saying we will never sin, but that it will not be his practice. When a Christian sins, he seeks to be right in the sight of God as quickly as possible, and so he will “keep His commandment” that says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
This plainly agrees with what the psalmist wrote many years before, when he said, “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart! They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways” (Psa. 119:2, 3). It is the most logical answer to keeping us from sinning: Keep His commandments!
Walk As He Walked. And immediately following those words, John gives us another means to helping us not sin: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Noting again that ‘abiding in Him’ means keeping His commandments, let us now note that this also requires that we “walk just as He walked” — that is, we must live as Jesus lived. Again, this should be a natural and logical conclusion, especially for those who know how Christ lived. How so?
We know, from the Divine record, that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and as John himself wrote, “He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). It can get no simpler than this, friends and brethren; if we follow the example of Jesus — who did not sin — we will not sin. Since Jesus left “us an example, that you should follow His steps” (and not just in His suffering, 1 Pet. 2:21), let us not overlook this powerful means to helping us to not sin. Jesus taught by words, yes; but He also taught us by His example. Since He faced every temptation and did not sin, it should be obvious, then, that following His example in this, particularly, we will also not sin. The example of His temptation (Matt. 4:1-11) was not written just to fill up the scrolls of the New Testament writers, but to show us how we, too, can overcome temptations — every time, if we so choose.
Practice Righteousness. Jesus once told the story of a man who had an unclean spirit, but who had left the man in search of a new home. When he found none, he decided to return and, upon his return, he found “it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matt. 12:43-45). Similarly, we cannot simply “not sin” and not fill up that void with righteousness and still expect to succeed in spiritual matters. We cannot just resolutely avoid sin; we must also practice righteousness.
The first thing on this point that should be noted is that this righteousness is not a righteousness of self; this is the righteousness as revealed by God’s word — God’s righteousness. Paul reminds us it is in Scripture we have been given “instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16); that is, we have been instructed by the Scriptures how to “practice righteousness.” Without the Scriptures to tell us what true righteousness is, we would all likely have our own version, and none of it would be acceptable to God.
The next thing that must be noted on this point is the matter of how practicing righteousness helps us to not sin. God’s word gives us that answer, too, when Paul asked, “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” (2 Cor. 6:14; remember, sin is defined as lawlessness). If we understand and accept the fact righteousness has no part with sin, then if we resolve to be pleasing to God in all we do, it will no longer even be a temptation; we will acknowledge we cannot have any part with it! We will acknowledge the truth of the psalmist’s words when he wrote, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psa. 97:10). We will accept the admonition of the wise writer, who tells us, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Prov. 8:13), and so we will do just that.
Have A Strong Faith. John’s final help is simple, but powerful: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4, 5). In those words, let us acknowledge the power faith has in helping us to not sin. It is faith (trust) in God that will keep us from falling for the devil’s lies, and to continue believing that God’s ways are always the better ways. It is faith that we will be able to do all He demands of us through the strength given to us by Christ (Phil. 4:13). It is faith that realizes “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35-39), and no trials or temptations are ‘too much’ for Him. It is faith that remembers and trusts that, ultimately, “God,…gives us the victory [over death] through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
The promise of God is that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able; here is the proof. — Steven Harper