Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you. We admit our total dependence on you. We want to understand your Word. We want to live in line with your Word. We come before you in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen!
I'll always quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. Sometimes I'll make comments in the middle of quotations in [ ] or brackets [[ ]].
I'm turning to page 194 of my book and the heading, "A Discussion of the Three Most Important Passages Often Used to Try to Prove that Christians Cannot Walk in Victory Over Sin During this Present Age." My studies indicate that the three most important such passages are Rom. 7:14-25 (we just completed a study of these verses); Gal. 5:17 (we have already thoroughly studied this verse in its context), and 1 John 1:8 (We come to 1 John 1:8 in this article, and we will thoroughly study this verse in its context.) Of these three, the first and third are the most often used (Romans 7 and 1 John 1:8).
From my point of view, much damage has been done to the Body of Christ through a serious misunderstanding of these passages. I don't believe any of them suggests that Christians cannot walk in total victory over sin. In fact, each of these passages is set in a context that teaches victory over all sin. The New Testament consistently teaches that Christians can and should live without sin. This is the ideal, and we must aim at this target. Something is big time wrong if we are not trying to stop sinning and making it a top priority to live in the righteousness and holiness of God, by His grace, through faith. The call, and enablement, to walk in victory over all sin is a big part of what salvation in Christ is all about.
Salvation, including salvation from the authority and power of sin, comes by grace through faith. We cannot walk in victory over sin apart from faith for that victory, and since our faith is based on the Word of God (our faith must be based on the Word of God), we cannot have faith for victory over sin if we believe that some passages teach that such a victory is unattainable. All the many passages that clearly teach victory over sin (for example, Romans chapters 6, 8; Galatians chapter 5; and much of the First Epistle of John) must be substantially qualified by those who don't believe such a victory is possible. Victory over sin is often put off until after the resurrection.
It is very important for us to rightly divide the Word of God on this topic (and on every topic). There are powerful enemies arrayed against us that want to keep us in sin: the world, the flesh (the old man who wants to continue living in sin), and the devil. We will never defeat the enemy on a consistent basis apart from the grace of God appropriated by faith.
Now I'm going to turn to page 200 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ." We come to the heading, "First John 1:5-2:6 and 2:28-3:12 with the Emphasis on the Meaning of 1 John 1:8." In order to understand this important epistle of the apostle John, and 1 John 1:8, we must understand that this epistle was written to refute a powerful heresy that had arisen in the Christian church. I have an endnote here, which I'll read, We need to go very slow and be very careful about calling any "Christian" a heretic. That is a serious charge. As we continue, it will be obvious that this movement involved a major deviation from the foundational truths of the gospel, a true heresy, a very serious heresy.
I'll read 1 John 1:8 from my book. I used the New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition in my book. "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." We will be discussing this verse in some detail as we continue, but I'll briefly comment now. If we take this verse by itself, out of its context, it sounds like the apostle John is rebuking some Christians who thought they could walk with the total victory over sin. However, when we understand that the apostle wrote this epistle, every chapter of this epistle, to refute the Gnostic heretics, we can see that these words were aimed at the Gnostic heretics. They denied that sin is the problem, and they denied the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. They said that sin is not the problem, and the blood of Jesus is not the answer. They said, we don't have sin. That's not the problem, and we don't believe in the atoning death of Christ.
In 1 John 1:8, John was not rebuking some Christians who thought they could walk with the total victory over sin. He was rebuking the Gnostic heretics, who denied that they were sinners and denied the reality of the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout this epistle the apostle exhorts his Christian readers with the call and enablement to always walk with the victory over sin.
Now I'm going to continue reading from page 200 of the book, but as I have mentioned, sometimes I modify what is written in the book for these articles. 1 John 2:18-26 help us understand this epistle. Let's look at verses 19 and 26. 1 John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us." The heretics that John was speaking about here had gone out from the true Christian church. 1 John 2:26 says, "These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you." Those heretics were trying to persuade the others to follow them. The apostle John had to be concerned for the purity of the gospel and the welfare of the Christian church. He would also have desired to wake up, if possible, those who had already joined the heresy.
Then I said, The following passages enable us to see something of the very serious errors associated with this heresy. I should point out that the Gnostic heretics didn't agree with one another on very detail.
1 John 2:22, 23. (These heretics denied that "Jesus is the Christ," and they denied the Son of God. These are serious errors, aren't they? They denied that Jesus is the Christ, and they denied the Son of God.) "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. (23) Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also." The Gnostics had very wrong ideas about God. For one thing, they didn't believe in God the Father and God the Son. One Gnostic viewpoint was that the Old Testament God who created the physical world was an evil god, and an inferior god.
1 John 4:1-6. Rather than read what I said in my book here, I'll read the verses and discuss them in more detail.
1 John 4:1. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." The "false prophets" were motivated by demon spirits, and they learned their false doctrines from spirits under the devil. "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." How do we test them? For one thing, we test them by what they teach. Do their doctrines line up with the gospel proclaimed by Christ's apostles, or are they proclaiming heretical doctrines? We can also test false prophets by how they live (see Matt. 7:15-23, for example).
1 John 4:2. "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." That may seem like an inappropriate test until we realize that the Gnostic heretics denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. I'll read 2 John 1:7, "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and antichrist." For one thing, the Gnostics believed that physical matter is evil, and they denied that Jesus Christ had a physical body. They said he only seemed to have a physical body. Well, if He didn't have a physical body, then there could be no atoning death of the Lamb of God, but, as I mentioned, the Gnostic heretics didn't believe in the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Error upon error! I should point out that it was a widely held viewpoint in the ancient world that physical matter is evil.
1 John 4:3. "and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God [We must confess all that the Bible says about Jesus, including the fact that He came in the flesh.]; this is the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming and now it is already in the world." The true Christian ministers (like the apostle John) taught that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, but since the heretics denied it, this was an effective test to show that the Gnostic prophets were false prophets. What if you heard a minister say that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, but then he went on to teach other heresies? Of course that minister must be rejected.
1 John 4:4. "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them [they have overcome the Gnostic heretics, and every other being aligned with the devil]; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." The Spirit of God dwells in every true Christian (see Rom. 8:9, for example). The New Testament shows that Satan is the god of this world.
1 John 4:5. "They [the Gnostic heretics] are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them." The heretics of each generation typically tell people what they want to hear. Heresies are designed by the devil to appeal to what people want to hear. In our day the devil pushes words like love and unity, but defining these words in a worldly way that doesn't leave room for the true gospel.
1 John 4:6. "We are from God [The apostle John was speaking of himself and the other faithful ministers of God.], he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." How desperately we need the truth, the balanced truth, of what the Bible teaches. If we don't make the truth top priority, we probably won't find it. How precious is the truth! There are all kinds of serious error around today, including around Christianity. We must be very careful who we listen to! It could cost you your soul!
Next we come to 1 John 5:3-6. I'll read these verses and make a few comments; then I'll read what I said in the book. 1 John 5:3. "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." If we love God we will keep His commandments (see John 14:15, 21; and 15:10, for example). As we live in the righteousness and holiness of God (by His grace through faith), we will be keeping His commandments. This is a big part of what Christianity is all about. Living in the will of God by His grace is liberty, not bondage or burdensome.
1 John 5:4. "For whatever is born of God [In context John is speaking of born-again Christians, they have been born again through the Lord Jesus Christ and by the indwelling Spirit of God.] overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." We overcome the world, the flesh (the old man), and the devil by grace through faith. We are called (and enabled) to walk by the Holy Spirit on a continual basis by grace through faith (see Gal. 5:16. for example).
I John 5:5. "Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" We believe in God the Father and God the Son. The Gnostic heretics denied that Jesus is the Son of God, for one thing (see 1 John 2:22, 23).
1 John 5:6. "This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth." I'll read what I said in my book under 1 John 5:5, 6 (on page 201). 1 John 5:6 says, "This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood." The heretics acknowledged that Jesus came by "water" (undoubtedly referring to the water of baptism), but, significantly, they denied the reality of the all-important atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have already seen that the heretics denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, so it is not surprising that they denied His atoning blood. They denied that sin is the problem and that they were sinners, and they denied their need for (and the reality of) the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The viewpoint of the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus, who lived in the days of the apostle John, was that Jesus was a man born of Joseph and Mary. How's that for a start? When Jesus was baptized in water, the Christ descended on Him, but the Christ left Him before the man Jesus died. From this heretical point of view, Jesus was not the Christ (see 1 John 2:22), and Christ Jesus (the God-man) was not the Lamb of God dying an atoning death for us. We will further discuss the all-important blood atonement and the Gnostic viewpoint when we come to 1 John 1:7-10.
It is widely agreed by the commentators that the apostle John was dealing with an early form(s) of the Gnostic heresy in this epistle. The problem is that most of these commentators do not incorporate this information when they interpret 1 John 1:8. I have pointed out some of the doctrinal deviations associated with this heresy. Throughout this epistle John also frequently alludes to the sinful (and unloving) lifestyle of these heretics (1 John 2:3-11; 3:3-24; 4:7, 8, 20, 21). It is not surprising that those who denied that they were sinners would be living in sin. Many of the Gnostics were noted for their sinful lifestyles. As I mentioned, the Gnostics did not believe in salvation from sin through the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. They believed in salvation through their own secret knowledge. (The word Gnostic comes from the Greek noun gnosis, which means "knowledge.") Their secret knowledge dealt with things like how this world was created by an evil god, and is enslaved by evil forces, and how to be saved through their secret knowledge.
Now we come to the heading, "1 John 1:5-2:6."
1 John 1:5. "And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." The light of God includes His truth, His righteousness, and His holiness.
1 John 1:6. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;" The heretics claimed they had fellowship with God. However, the fact that they were walking in the darkness (separate from the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God) demonstrated that they did not really have fellowship with Him in the light.
1 John 1:7. "but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."
I'll read what I said regarding the words, "we have fellowship with one another." All those who have fellowship with God in the light have fellowship with one another in the light. The heretics were excluded. They belonged to the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of the darkness; they were walking in the darkness.
Now we will discuss these super-important words at the end of verse 7, "and THE BLOOD OF JESUS HIS SON CLEANSES US FROM ALL SIN." This is the heart of the gospel. The heretics denied that Jesus is the Son of God (see 1 John 2:22-24; 3:23; 4:14, 15; 5:5, 9-13), and they denied that they were sinners and their need for the atoning blood of the Lamb of God (see, for example, 1 John 1:7-10; 4:1, 2; and 5:6). However, they did not keep the commandments of God (see 1 John 2:3-11; 3:3-23; 4:8, 20, 21, and 5:1-4). The heretics denied that sin is the problem, and they denied that the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the answer. Talk about serious errors!
In sharp contrast with the heretics, all true Christians know that "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." This precious blood of the Lamb of God "[cleansed] us from all sin" and enabled us to come into the light. This same blood continues to work is purifying (sanctifying) power and keeps us cleansed from all sin. It enables us to stay in the light; it enables us to live in a state of righteousness and holiness. And if a Christian should sin, restoration is provided through the same atoning blood (see 1 John 2:1, 2). The Greek verb translated "cleanses" in this verse is in the present tense, which probably conveys the idea of continuous action.
Christians are CLEANSED from the guilt of sin, but in this epistle (and often in the New Testament) the emphasis is placed on the CLEANSING of our hearts and lives by the powerful (sanctifying) cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are CLEANSED in the sense that we are transformed/sanctified. The Greek verb "katharizo," which is translated "cleanses" here, is frequently used of a transforming, sanctifying cleansing in the New Testament (see Acts 15:9; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:26; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:14; James 4:8; and 1 John 1:9). This is very important information! We'll take the time to look at three of the seven verses I listed here:
In 2 Cor. 7:1 the apostle Paul said, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, LET US CLEANSE ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The words "having these promises" refer back to the promises mentioned at the end of chapter 6. The Greek verb behind the words "let us cleanse" is katharizo. The context shows that the apostle Paul wasn't just speaking of being forgiven and cleansed from the guilt of sin; he was speaking of cleansing our hearts and lives from everything unholy and sinful. By cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, we perfect (or, complete) holiness in the fear of God. The Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) makes it clear that God's people must have a healthy fear of being in sin and out of the will of God.
It must be understood, of course, that we cleanse our hearts and lives from everything sinful and unholy by the powerful grace of God in Christ, through His all-important atoning death, as we walk by faith and by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis. This is good news! This is what we want, isn't it? We must appropriate these things by faith, in accordance with the gospel, but we must rightly divide God's Word and understand the gospel. God gets all the glory for our righteousness and holiness. His righteousness and holiness are imparted to us through new-covenant salvation in the shed blood of the Lamb of God. We have powerful enemies arrayed against us, and it isn't always easy or fun, but we must press on in faith and appropriate everything God has made available to us. What a great privilege to be called to be cleansed from everything sinful and unholy in our hearts and lives. Katharizo, what a significant verb!
Now I'll turn to Titus 2:14, another verse that uses katharizo of a sanctifying type cleansing from all sin. "[Christ Jesus] who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed [or, to redeem us from all lawlessness; His powerful cleansing blood redeems us out of the kingdom of lawlessness, out of the kingdom of the darkness of this world.] who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness, and TO PURIFY [katharizo; we could translate purify, or cleanse] for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds [or, good works]." I believe it is quite clear in this context that the apostle Paul was speaking of purifying the heart and life of believers from everything that is sinful and unholy and enabling them to live in the very righteousness and holiness of God, "zealous for good works."
We'll look at one last verse that uses katharizo, where the context shows that the verb is being used of a sanctifying type of cleansing, a cleansing that goes far beyond cleansing believers from the guilt of sin. I'll read James 4:8. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. CLEANSE [katharizo] [or, purify] YOUR HANDS YOU SINNERS; and PURIFY YOUR HEARTS YOU DOUBLE-MINDED." It is quite clear in this context that James wasn't just exhorting his readers to ask God to forgive them. He was exhorting them to stop sinning (by the grace of God in Christ). A different Greek verb was used here for purifying the hearts, but purifying our hearts from double-mindedness (by the grace of God in Christ) is a big part of what new-covenant salvation is all about. The atoning blood of the Lamb of God is that powerful! Taking away the guilt of sin is very important, but that is about ten percent of the gospel. The atoning blood has the power to cleanse our hearts and lives from sin, by grace, through faith, in accordance with God's Word. This is the ideal. We must aim at this target.
Now I'll continue to read what I said under 1 John 1:7 on pages 202, 203. Throughout the studies contained in this book, I have been emphasizing that the blood of Jesus Christ (His atoning death) dethrones sin, Satan, and spiritual death - it gives Christians life and makes them righteous and holy - it enables them to live in an abiding state of righteousness and holiness. God gets all the glory for the victory that Christians experience. The other side of the coin is that God is denied glory to the extent that we do not walk in His righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin.
Now we come to 1 John 1:8. "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." I'll read what I said under the words, "If we say that we have no sin." The words "we have no sin" are exactly what we would expect the heretics to say in response to what John has just said at the end of verse 7. We know enough from this epistle (and it is confirmed by our knowledge of Gnosticism) to say that the heretics denied that they were sinners, and they denied their need for, and the reality of, the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. They denied that they had sinned (see verse 10), and they denied that they were living in sin, even though they were not keeping the commandments of God (see 1 John 2:3-6, for example).
Most Christians (I'm sorry to say) believe that here in 1 John 1:8 the apostle John was refuting the idea that Christians can walk in victory over sin. I'm quite sure, however, that this interpretation is wrong and that the apostle John would himself plead "guilty" to holding the viewpoint that Christians are called and enabled to walk with the victory over all sin, through the powerful cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition to the verses that we are considering in this study (1 John 1:5-2:6 and 2:28-3:12), also see 1 John 2:9-17; 3:13-24; 4:7-21; 5:1-5, 16-21; John 4:23, 24; 5:14, 24; 7:37-39; 8:31-36; 14:15-24; 15:10-17; 17:6-26; Rev. 2:1-3:22; 7:14; 12:11, 17; 14:4, 5; 19:7, 8; 21:8; and 22:11-15. The apostle John also wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. Many of the verses just listed state the victory over all sin in very strong very clear terms.
God bless you! May His name be glorified through His people (including us)to the maximum!
Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.
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