9. No Need to Sin

Meditations in 1 John : 9 :  No Need to Sin

1 John  2:1   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We have observed so far, John telling us that we are all sinners, people who are tainted with Sin. Note the capital letter we use to distinguish the tendency from the individual acts we refer to as sins (small s). Sin is the tendency or disposition that is inclined to being self-centred and godless, and thus in behaviour, unrighteous. When we give way to that Sin we commit sins, individual acts – thoughts, words, or deeds – that are wrong. John has said, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1:8) But he didn’t leave us there, he told us how to deal with those sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1:9)

Many Christians are uncomfortable with this language because it focuses on the negatives, on failure. Those who would want to speak about the victorious Christian life feels such talk takes something away from victory. No, it simply helps us realize our vulnerability and our constant need of Christ and of the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the point the apostle Paul reached at the end of Romans 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24.25) In the following chapter he explains how Christ has dealt with our Sin and the Holy Spirit empowers us so that we can avoid sins.

This is now where we come to with John who doesn’t want to leave us faced with sin, but moves us on to realize that although we are still vulnerable to it, we don’t have to give way to it. This is the same sort of thing that I feel we have to say when we find ourselves in discussions about the genes we inherit from our parents. Every now and then the media latch on to the comments of some genetic scientist and are pronouncing that a particular gene makes us behave in certain ways. The truth is that a particular gene may give us a disposition that veers towards that particular behaviour.

Take the example of anger. A particular father clearly has a short fuse and blows up at the smallest thing. Even more than that, he uses his anger to get his own way. The child inherits some of his genes (not all of them because the child also inherits the genes of the mother and she never had a problem with anger!) and so has this same tendency, but more than that, the child has learned to use anger just as they have seen their parent use it. Now the only trouble is that this is wrong! So is the child condemned to be an anger-filled adult? No! The truth, as we’ve just noted it, is that there is only a tendency towards anger. We still have free will and we can chose to accept that behaviour or we can reject it and learn behavioral strategies that overcome the anger tendencies. And we can certainly refuse it to manipulate others. There may be a tendency but we don’t have to give way to it. Even more, when we are a Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and His power will help us control our temper, for He is a Spirit of self-control (2 Tim 1:7 older versions)

Now we must recognize that these changes may take place in different people at different times. For all of us some changes take place instantly, at the moment of our conversion, when we confess and surrender and are forgiven and given the Holy Spirit. But after that it becomes a lifetime of change. Some things take a very long time to change in us simply because we don’t realize they are wrong and it is only as we receive God’s word at some point – whether by reading the Bible or by preaching, say – that we suddenly see that a particular attitude or habit is wrong and needs changing. Other things just need working at. In my own case I had previously used swear words every fifth word almost and it took six months to completely break the habit, and I have never sworn since. Sometimes there may be an addiction, say to smoking. For some people giving up with the help of God through a simple prayer is no big deal. For others they struggle and struggle. I had a friend who really struggled to stop smoking, but it was only when the Holy Spirit fell on him was he truly delivered.

But John writes to show us that we don’t have to sin. It doesn’t have to be a part of our lives anymore. This IS the reality. I remember a friend who had sat in a meeting when the Speaker had asked, “How many of you have not sinned today?” He and one other put up their hands. When he talked about it later he said, “I have been too busy doing what God’s given me to do to sin today.”  Yes, we may stumble, but John’s teaching is that these should be exceptions and not the rule. Yes, we are vulnerable as redeemed sinners and when we try to walk the walk on our own, we become very vulnerable. As we trust on Him and lean on Him and fellowship with Him and as we obediently go about doing the things He’s given us to do, then, yes, our lives will be free from sinning. Hallelujah!

Sins of the Past

WALKING WITH GOD. No.36

1 Kings 15:26 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD , walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.”

There is a saying, ‘like father, like son’ with the implication that a son will follow his father. There may have been something of that thought behind the Lord’s words at Sinai, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex 20:5). The reality was that there could be three or even four generations alive at any one time, and if that was so it implied two things. The first, was that the father (who became a grandfather or even great-great grandfather) was the patriarch who was the authority over the family and who was thus responsible for the family before God. The second thing was, that the likelihood would have been that children followed their father’s example and so went the same wrong way as their father, and thus incurred the Lord’s anger. The balance was the verse that followed, “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (v.6). Where the example was the love for God and that was passed from generation to generation, every generation could guarantee to know God’s love. That was the simple promise.

Now our verse above applies to Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, but it also applied to a number of other subsequent kings of Israel. In fact most of them! It tells us that Nadab followed in the footsteps of his father, doing the same wrong things, specifically allowing or encouraging Israel to worship idols and not the Lord. Now when we did the meditation on Jeroboam being given the ten tribes of the north, we noted the potential that was there for him, to live out a life of blessing as he followed the Lord having been given a throne at God’s instigation. It was a completely new chapter opening up before him that invited him to walk the walk with God and be blessed. Instead he walked his own walk and received censure. Now when it comes to his son, he doesn’t HAVE to walk the same walk. Every son has the potential to walk a fresh walk with God. He doesn’t HAVE to go the same way his father went. This is another aspect of the whole thing about free will. Because we have free will we do not HAVE to walk the same walk as our parents. There is a very important lesson here for many of us.

Now the truth is that we do have the same genes as our parents but all that means is that in a variety of ways we will have a tendency to be like them, but please note it is purely a tendency. You don’t HAVE to be the same. We each have the ability, and especially when we walk with the Lord, to walk a new path. We can learn from the weaknesses or failures of our parents, and with God’s help we can ensure we don’t go the same way as they went. Where there are good things to follow, then of course we will want to imitate them, but the bad or negative things we want to reject.

One of the things about parents, is that because we were so close to them (geographically if not emotionally) they are there as an object lesson for us and we can never say, “Well I never knew.” We did; they were there, right in front of us. Their weaknesses or failures were obvious to see and we should have learnt from them, so that we don’t go the same way. Where they were a good example to us, we have an even bigger responsibility to follow their example because we can see the goodness of the way they walked. We can never say to God, “I didn’t see,” because that only shows our foolishness that was blind to the goodness before us which we obviously took for granted!

That is what lies behind the verse above. It is a terrible indictment, upon Jeroboam but also upon Nadab. It says that Jeroboam was foolish but Nadab was doubly so because he had had the opportunity to watch his father and ponder on what he was doing. A son is, if you like, on the sidelines watching his father, and because he is on the sidelines, he has the opportunity to think about what his father is doing and come to a right assessment about it.

So how about our own situations? When we look at the lives of our parents, are we able to be grateful for the goodness of their lives and do we follow the example of their goodness, or do we take it for granted and even reject it? Or is the opposite true? Do we look at the lives of our parents and feel sad for the sort of people that they were, perhaps struggling with the pain they inflicted on us. It happens. But if it did happen, have we learnt from it, so that we avoid going down the same path? It is sometimes said that someone who has been abused in childhood finds an abuser partner. It doesn’t have to be! If we are Christians the power of God is there so that we are released from our past history and can live out new lives with Him – but we have to believe it! What is the lesson that is coming out of this verse? You don’t have to be bound by your past. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!(2 Cor 5:17). Believe it!