What is sin? What is Jesus’ relationship to sin? And what is ours?
First John 3:4-10 provides an answer to each of these questions.
First, what is sin? Verse 4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” According to the Bible, God’s moral will is revealed in both nature (Romans 1:18-20) and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Sin is the intentional disobedience of this divine will. It is acting contrary to both reason and revelation. Because the devil is the first and most notorious example of such disobedience, John considers all sinners to be of the devil’s party. According to verse 8, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” Sin is no trifling matter, then; at root it is anti-God behavior.
Second, what is Jesus’ relationship to sin? Verse 5 says, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” In terms of his person, Jesus is sinless. In terms of his work, he is the Savior of those who have sinned. Jesus’ person and work make him diametrically opposed to the devil. According to verse 8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” If the devil’s work is the cause of all the misery in the world, then Jesus’ work is the source of its blessedness.
Third, what is our relationship to sin? How we answer that question depends on what our relationship with Jesus is. So, verses 6-7 say, “No one who lives in him [that is, Jesus] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” And verses 9-10 add, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” Our relationship to sin is determined by whether we are “in him,” that is, saved by Jesus.
Throughout 1 John 3:4-10, John presents the spiritual life in stark, either-or terms. You are either a sinner or not. You are either the child of the devil or the child of God. We live in an easy-going age that is uncomfortable with such black-and-white thinking. Indeed, some people think that moral absolutism of this sort is a cause of great evil in the world. And perhaps it can be. (In the case of radical Islamist terrorists, it is.) But being “in Jesus” is not that kind of religion. It is, rather, a religion of love. Whoever does not love is of the devil’s party. Whoever loves, through Christ, is a child of God.