When I Want to Cut Out Part of My Bible
1 John 3:4-9 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning… Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
Since I started this project back in June, I have known this passage was coming and I have dreaded it. It is the one passage I would use against me if I disagreed with my view of reality. I have often wished I could just take my scissors to these verses. I sleep easily with grace and forgiveness, but this passage is the bed of nails in which I find no comfort.
Like I said, if I disagreed with me, I would quote this idea over and over: No one born of God can keep on sinning. If you continue to struggle, you are not of God… Of course, anyone who has a shred of honesty would not be able to bear the weight of this accusation. Who can withstand the crushing burden of these words, insisting they do not struggle with any recurrent sin? What could John be saying? Is he really insisting that anyone who struggles with recurrent sin is of the devil, lost to God?
When I am trying to understand this passage, it is absolutely necessary for me to look at what John is and is not saying and at what he and others have already said. John has already said that we all sin (1 John 1:8) and that when we sin, God is faithful to forgive us (1:9, 2:1,2). Paul spoke of struggling with destructive behaviors (Romans 7) and he admitted he was not yet made perfect (Philippians 3:12). Jesus insisted that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38). So I do not think that John can be saying that a Christian cannot struggle (recurrently) with the flesh nature.
It is important however, not to diminish, manipulate or explain away the gravity of John’s words. I do absolutely think that John is insisting that we are to live in Christ and to we are to recognize that this Christ-life is completely incompatible with a life marked by destructive behavior. I am not to be deceived. If my life is defined by habitual recurrent sin, I am by definition, not abiding in Christ. Following Christ and following my flesh nature are not behaviors that can coexist. If I am pursuing one, I am by definition, not pursuing the other.
When I was living enslaved to pills, I was right to read these words and fear. The reality was that my behavior was not in any way compatible with abiding in Christ. Did that mean I had lost my status as God’s child? I do not think so looking back, but I think that at the time, I was right to be terrified by my behavior.
John is saying that when I come to part of the bible that strikes fear in me because of my destructive choices, I am not to take the scissors to the bible, but to my behavior. These words are not just for Scott, two years ago. These words are for me today. What behavior am I tolerating now that is incompatible with abiding in Christ? What is hindering me now? I am to continually do whatever it takes to ruthlessly cut out that which distracts from following Christ. That, I think, is what John is saying to me.