Sometime ago I saw a video on YouTube that blew my mind. This guys was doing the craziest Calisthenic push-ups I had ever seen. One particular push-up consisted of him literally launching his body into the air from a prone lying position using only his arms. Being a guy that likes fitness I wrote him a comment and asked him how in the world he got to that level because I wanted to get there too. What do I have to do? I asked. I read his response with disappointment when he basically told me he didn’t really know what to say.
The way I felt when I saw him doing those push-ups is the way I feel when I read 1 John 3:9. Turn there with me. It reads:
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.
When I read this verse my question is, John, how in the world do you get to that level? Will John, like my YouTube friend give us the answer? Or will he leave us hanging? Let’s find out.
Go back with me to the beginning of the chapter. Verse one opens up with a very powerful concept. John says,
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!
Everyone here knows that God loves them. Almost every person in the west has seen a billboard with the words “God loves you” on it. But notice, John does not say “listen.” He does not say, “study.” He doesn’t even say “read”. John says, “behold.” To behold means to see. Let me ask you a question. What was the last time you actually saw Gods love for you?
There is an old story about a woman who asked her husband, Why don’t you ever tell me that you love me? And the husband replied, “I told you I love you when I married you and if I ever change my mind I will let you know.” Funny as that story might be, do you realize it actually describes the relationship many of us have with God? Many of us have not heard God tell us how much he loves us since we got baptized. But John says God lavishes his love on us. You don’t lavish someone with something once. The idea of lavishing connotes a continual action. God is always lavishing his love on us and John is saying, “You have got to see this love God lavishes on you every day.”
Is it possible then that for John the first step to overcoming sin is in seeing how much God loves us on a daily basis despite the fact that we are far from where he wants us to be?
John goes on to say that God lavishes his love on us by calling us his children. But notice something interesting. In verse 2 he adds, “now we are children of God.” Notice, John did not say that you have to reach a certain level of holiness before God considers you his child. He did not say you had to grow spiritually first before you could be considered his child. He said “now” we are his children. Today. Not tomorrow. You see, I have two boys. One is a toddler and he is wild. But as wild as he is he is my son. I will not consider him a son when he grows up and learns to behave better. He is my son now even though he is far from being the man I hope he someday becomes. In other words, you are a part of Gods family today, right now, even if you are a spiritual toddler. You may be far from the person God wants you to be. You may still have things in your life you need to get right and yet even so you are Gods child right now.
Could John be telling us that the secret to being an over-comer is to recognize that we are Gods children right now despite our imperfections?
But john goes on in the rest of verse 2 and says something very challenging. Look at what he says:
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.
John is saying two things here. Number 1, there is something I don’t know. Number two, there is something I do know. It has not yet been revealed what we will be. I don’t know that. But this I do know. Jesus is coming and when he does we will be like him because we will see him as he is. In other words we will not be like him before we see him. We will be like him after we see him. But why does that even matter? Allow me to read a letter to you I received a few weeks ago:
I have been miserable for years being a SDA. I love the Death and Hell message and mostly… the fundamentals of the Church but If I have to be perfect before God in the Flesh, then What DID JESUS come and do for me? I find myself being in fear all the time because I don't measure up.
You see, this guy thinks in order for Jesus to come and take him to heaven he has to become absolutely perfect. But John says, even though we wont be like him until we see him, guess what! We are going to see him. He is coming and when he does we will be transformed into his image.
Perhaps the third secret to being an over-comer is in recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order to go to heaven.
So lets put this all together. John goes on and notice what he says in verse 3:
And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
Notice John does not say “all purify themselves.” John says, “whoever has this hope in him purifies himself.” Here is the answer to the question, “How can I be sinless?” There is only one way: All who have this hope in him. But what is the hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope that purifies the one who believes it.
Perhaps John is telling us that the fourth secret to overcoming lies in feeling safe in the arms of God (having the hope of salvation) despite your imperfections.
But what exactly does it mean to be sinless? Notice John says, “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Later on John tells us that God is love. Here he tells us that God is pure. So according to John God is pure love. If I pour salt into a glass of water is it pure? What about lemon? No. Pure water is H2O plus nothing else. According to John God is love plus nothing else. That’s not me. I have a bit of love mixed with selfishness, anger, and pride. But God is pure love. So to purify myself just as God is pure is to love like God loves. And while it is possible to correct behavior by focusing on behavior, you cannot love like God by trying harder.
But lets ask another question. What does John mean by love? Read verse 16 with me:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Being sinless is not about perfect behavior. It’s about perfect love. And perfect love is manifested in laying our lives down for one another the same way that Jesus laid his life down for us. But let me make this a little more practical. Perfect love is about laying down your time for someone else. Your wallet. Your reputation. Your comfort. John himself adds:
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
Perfect love. That is what John means by living without sin. And there is only one way for you and I to ever get to this level. And that is to have the hope of Jesus within. What is that hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope by which we purify ourselves from selfishness until we love like God loves. You cannot live with this hope within you and go on sinning (living a lifestyle of selfishness). Hence John could say:
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.
I don’t know about you but I want to love like Jesus loves. That would be awesome. It begins by daily seeing his love for me. Not just reading about it. Talking about it. Or hearing about it. But experiencing it in our hearts. It begins by believing that you are a child of God, a member of his family, despite your imperfections. It begins by recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order for Jesus to come and take you to heaven. When you have this hope in you, you can go forth to purify yourself just as God is pure. You can learn to love like Jesus. The search for sinlessness is ultimately a search - not for perfect behavior or flawless obedience to the letter of the law - but for the love of God to make its home within us more and more. And so long as you are anxious and worried about your behavior you will never discover this love. It is when you recognize that its not about you at all, it is when you let go of your supposed "qualifications" and trust entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus for your salvation that you can then, in hope and joy, go forward to grow in love.