Section 3: The danger of a Casual Attitude toward Sin
As I mentioned in our last section, there were two major problems confronting John’s audience that were undermining their Christian experience in general and their confidence in their Christian position in particular. The first of these problems was a casual attitude toward sin. We cannot underestimate the debilitating nature of sin in the lives of saints. The Bible is full of examples of unnecessary pain and personal destruction that followed seasons where men who loved God became complacent and embraced a casual attitude toward sin. Think of David, Solomon, and Jacob as just a few examples. It is true that “the wages of sin is death” and “sin when it is finished brings forth death.” Notice where John starts his letter: verses 5-8 “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth…If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Again in 2:1 “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” And yet again in 3:2-5 We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure…And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” He is concerned by a casual attitude toward sin and the temptation to embrace the destructive doctrines of false teachers. Let me mention a few ways that a casual attitude toward sin will muddy the waters of this issue of confidence.
- Sin undermines the subjective sense of confidence that the Spirit of God gives us: There is a difference between what is objectively true, and our subjective experiences connected to the various feelings and passing internal thoughts that we experience on a moment by moment basis. When we are walking in fellowship with the Lord, there is a subjective, emotional aspect of our Christian experience that is healthy and properly aligned with what is objectively true. If we are saved and walking in communion with God, then we are in a position to experience a joyful confidence that is rooted in the internal working of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:14-16 says: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Sadly, sin breaks fellowship with God, and consequently undermines this joyful confidence that the Spirit gives us.
- Sin undermines our ability to properly discern between right and wrong: When Christians take a casual attitude toward sin, in begins to undermine their progress into spiritual maturity. What once was very clear to them becomes clouded. What they once understood, they soon begin to doubt. In Hebrews 5:11-14, we see a group of Christians in that very condition. Notice what is says: “Ye are dull of hearing…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat…unskilful in the word of righteousness…strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Discernment is a gift from God that comes through personal discipline as we mature in the Christian life. We will not have discernment if we take a casual attitude toward sin.
- Sin damages our conscience: The conscience is an important faculty given to us by God, but the conscience cannot be our final arbiter in all matters. While it can be healthy and properly shaped by the scriptures, it also can become deadened or twisted by ungodly influences. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians and Romans of Christians who have a weak conscience. He exhorts Timothy numerous times in the Pastoral Epistles to have a good conscience as opposed to an evil conscience. Peter in his epistles also speaks of the importance of having a good conscience, and several New Testament writers talk of the perils of the last days when men will have consciences that has been “seared with a hot iron” and has become “defiled.” It is dangerous to trust a conscience that has been twisted by means of sinful and ungodly influences. Let us never forget that the same faculty that can become hardened over time to allow evil men to justify presumptuous sin can also become a weapon of Satan to cause doubts and anxiety in immature Christians.
- Sin attacks our fruitfulness: At this point, in our discussion, let’s remember that we are not examining the doctrine of security or justification before God, but rather our sense that we are personally secure in Christ. Fruitfulness in the Christian life is one of the ways that we and others can see verification that there is new life in Christ. James writes in James 3: “I will show you my faith by my works…” Paul writes in Romans 8 that those who are after the Sprit “mind the things of the Sprit.” And in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that every man in Christ is “a new creature, old things are passed away, all things are become new.” The internal reality of new life in Christ is a spiritual and therefore invisible reality; yet it is not without verifiable evidence. Christ told Nicodemus that the new birth is like the wind. It is invisible, yet verifiable. In John 15, Jesus told the disciples that they could be identified by something that is verifiable, “their love for one another.” Fruitfulness in the Christian life comes by degrees and not in a vacuum. Understanding this, Paul prayed in Philippians 1: that his audience would be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ.” Paul’s prayer was rooted in Christ’s statement in John 15 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” Sin breaks fellowship with God, therefore isolating us from the source of fruitfulness. This is why Peter wrote the following admonition in 2 Peter 1:5-10: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness…For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall…” Christians who give all diligence to their personal growth into Christlikeness will be transformed by degrees into the image of Christ and will have a steadiness and confidence that indeed they are God’s children.