The Bible includes a verse that reads, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His Seed remaineth in Him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1John 3:9)
This is a key verse for the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church, one used in a great many of our studies on various subjects. The reason why it appears so often is because it is one of the most clear statements of the Gospel’s power in the New Testament, and it is worded directly and simply with no parable, poetic language or vague terminology. It is direct doctrine.
Understanding the context of John’s statement, while not vital to receiving its direct meaning, is nevertheless useful for appreciating just how important it is for this generation. John’s first epistle was written to a community of Christians who were being influenced by Gnostic teachings. Essentially, this form of Gnosticism held that you were “saved in the spirit,” and that even though you might be saved, the flesh could, and would, continue to commit sinful acts. According to Gnostic theology anything that is material (like the flesh) is irredeemably evil, and therefore we cannot be expected to live without sin. We must simply await death, or some other transformation, before we can enter our “spiritual” state and finally be free from transgression.
This is the reason why John tells us these two things:
1) “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1John 4:2, 3)
One of the beliefs of Gnosticism was that Jesus was a spirit even while on earth, and that His experiences, even His sufferings on the cross, were but an illusion designed to teach us “spiritual lessons.” But John says, “No… He was truly here, as a man, and suffered and died in the flesh for our sakes.”
2) “He that saith, ‘I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.’ But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. Hereby know we that we are in Him. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” (1John 2:4-6)
While certainly true in a general sense, No. 2 was written to address the specific errors of Gnosticism; that is, that even though we are “saved,” the flesh continues to drive us to sin, so that some were saying, “I am saved, I abide in Christ,” and yet they were still sinning in their lives, and openly testifying to doing so.
If this sounds a little bit familiar, unfortunately, that is because it is. Shades of this teaching are present in the “Christianity” of modern theology. Modern Christianity teaches, indeed, that one may be “saved” and yet continue in sin. Some Churches take this even further, and claim that once saved, we are “always saved” regardless of what we do with our lives thereafter. There is a semblance of truth in this, because neither salvation nor damnation is about “works,” nevertheless if one DOES abide in Christ, the Word teaches us that our works will testify to that indwelling.
We take John’s statement at his word, that if Christ dwells in us, it becomes a practical impossibility to commit sin. We believe, and testify that it is our experience, that once one becomes “born again,” we do not – at any time – willfully commit sin. Furthermore, our very character is transformed into a Christ-like one, so that we reject any sin that comes up before us, even those that we discover in our own character through examination. In this way, we become ever more sanctified as we grow in grace and knowledge.
The Gospel is not about “holy flesh.” It does not state that once we become born again we are immediately experts in righteousness, never to err again. We need to be careful to explain this carefully, for many have misunderstood what the Scriptures (and therefore, what we ourselves) say about this matter. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isa 1:17, 18)
This is the pattern: We “cease” to do evil. That is an act, a decision, and an event. Thereafter, we must “learn” to do well. This is a process, a learning experience that sanctifies us.
The Gospel has this parable, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
The planter “knoweth not how” the seed grows. As it is written, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jer 10:23) It is the Almighty who directs our course of growth, and so in order to experience victory, we must enter a state of spiritual “rest” (as Christ has promised to all who come unto Him) and consent to the procedure. But note the steps: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. The “harvest” does not come until the plant is mature, but maturity is not the only measure of quality. Even the youngest of plants, those too young to bear fruit, are nevertheless “perfect” for their level of growth. The plant must become older and more mature, but it can never become “better,” or more fully a plant of its kind.
Sanctification is a growing experience that requires a lifetime of experiencing Yahweh’s righteousness, and replacing our cultivated and inherited traits of carnal character with the traits of Christ’s perfect and spiritual character – while continuing to reside in sinful flesh.
Now, what does this mean? It does not mean that we continue in sin. It means that we will continue to be tempted, for the Word tells us that this is where Satan approaches us – through the fleshly senses of the natural being. (Rom 7:25) But Paul tells us in no uncertain terms, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection; knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Rom 6:1-7)
The flesh will continue to tempt us, but, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal [i.e., fleshly] body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” (Rom 6:11, 12)
Some have misunderstood Paul’s testimony in Romans 7, for he writes, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Rom 7:21-25)
Some have seen, in this passage, justification for the belief that they can be spiritually saved (that is, saved in the “inward man”) and yet outwardly sinful (living in “the body of this death”). In fact, they even consider that Paul is thanking God that he is inwardly saved despite continuing to be sinful.
Of course, this understanding contradicts John’s no-nonsense statement that “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (1John 3:6-8)
Unfortunately, there are many who try to hold both their understandings of these passages to be equally true, and this sets up a very bad spiritual precedent for their minds. But the truth is, we need not see any dissonance between the words of Paul and John. Paul’s statements need merely be placed in their right context. There are two verses “framing” Paul’s statements – one before and one after – that reveal very clearly what Paul is actually expressing.
The first is found in verses five and six of chapter 7, which read, “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”
Here Paul sets up a timeframe, explaining that we are subject to the law of sin and death “when we were in the flesh.” This is past tense, and as you read through the chapter, you find that Paul switches from past to present seamlessly when describing his “in the flesh” experiences. When asking, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” he is not asking the question in the present (at the time of writing the epistle) but from the timeframe established at the beginning of the chapter. As he said, it is when we were in the flesh that we bring forth fruit “unto death.”
This is further verified by the transition between chapters 7 and 8. Many people will read chapter 7 up to verse 25 and stop, thinking that this is the complete thought. However, it must be remembered that the chapters and verses were added later as purely artificial constructs to help us reference and memorize the Scriptures. Reading on past the “end” we have Paul saying this, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 7:24-8:1, emphases added)
I have emphasized two portions of that passage. The first is the word “now,” which is not merely a device to catch the reader’s attention, as is common in modern English prose. In fact, the word means, “At this present time.” Paul is actively drawing the reader’s attention back to his current situation, having explained just what it is that Christ’s sacrifice has destroyed.
Second, Paul speaks of sins committed while in the flesh, but says that “now,” at this present time, there is no condemnation to those who do not walk after this sinful flesh. The sinful flesh is present, but it is not followed, or walked-after, because the mind (which controls the actions) is fixed on Christ.
Paul does not, anywhere in the Scriptures, speak of committing sin after his conversion experience. Even when calling himself the “chief” of sinners in 1Timothy 1:15, this is in reference to his actions before becoming a Christian, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (verse 13)
Thus, we find (and it should be no surprise) that there is absolutely no conflict between Paul and John. Both state that temptations come to us through the flesh. Both state that it is the mind that is converted to righteousness, not the body. Both state that we must consider ourselves “dead” to the sinful flesh, and in this way avoid committing sin. Both state that the life of the believer after this “death to self” is one of righteousness, free of condemnation and sin.
The first angel of the three introduced in the previous post, the one found bearing the Everlasting Gospel in Revelation 14, tells us, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev 14:7)
What does this have to do with overcoming sin? Much, and in two separate ways. First, the only reason to “rejoice” that the judgment is approaching is that we desire to see sin utterly destroyed in the creation. If we ourselves are sinful, we would be wishing our own destruction, and our response would be fear alone, rather than fear and glory in its proper balance.
Second, and more directly from the Scriptures, the angel instructs humanity to do something entirely impossible – if the receivers of this message are still “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph 2:1, cf. Col 2:13)
We read, “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness, but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.” (Isa 38:17-19)
This passage is applied both to physical death (for the speaker, King Hezekiah, was granted fifteen more years of life because of his repentance) and spiritual death. Those who are physically dead cannot praise Yahweh, obviously – but those who are spiritually dead, being sinful, cannot praise Him either. They may certainly voice prayers, and they may certainly make statements of praise; but “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?’ saith the Lord. ‘I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?’” (Isa 1:11, 12)
The Israelites, at that time, were doing all the “things” that their religion required of them, but because they were not clean in heart and spirit, their sacrifices, prayers, and expressions of worship were not acceptable to the Father’s sight. It is when we “awake to righteousness, and sin not” (1Cor 15:34) that this angel’s Gospel can be obeyed.
There are many who will wrestle with the Scriptures, attempting to demonstrate that somewhere – anywhere – the teachings of Christ and His messengers allow for the presence of willful, deliberate sin in the lives of the born-again. In doing so, they cause great injury to themselves and others. Why not just accept the promises as they are written? Why not believe that we can truly do ALL things through Christ? Why not believe that it is God’s stated desire for us that we BE free from sin, and that He has promised to exercise His infinite power on or behalf to see that it is just so. He is “able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,” (Jude 1:24) and moreover, He has promised you that He will do it if you believe and accept.
The acceptance of this promise, and these passages, is the victory over sin. It is a pillar of the Creation Seventh Day Adventist faith. It is a childlike acceptance of the truth: that if Yahweh has said something, He will faithfully accomplish it – and in a manner greater than, never less than, our expectation of Him. It is therefore our duty, and our privilege, to expect the very best from our Father in Heaven.
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