4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 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. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
There are two misconceptions about sin in the life of the believer that John is dealing with here.
The first is that, if we are born of God, we are so transformed that we will be incapable of sin. But this contradicts what John has already said in chapter one. We all sin, and if we say otherwise we are liars (1:8), and even make God a liar (1:10). If we are honest, this also matches our experience.
The second error John is dealing with is the belief that, because we belong to Christ, sin just doesn’t matter. We belong to Christ and are measured by our affiliation, not our conduct. But John makes it very clear that sin is lawlessness, the very thing that Christ came to put an end to. So we cannot “make a practice of sinning (vv. 4, 8, 9),” we cannot “keep on sinning (v. 6, 9).” The word still means something or John would not so strongly warn his readers against it. The Son of God appeared, not just to defeat the devil as a person, but to “destroy the works of the devil (v. 8).”
John puts forth solutions to each of these two misconceptions. For those who believe they are born of God and therefore incapable of sin, he admits, “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 (v. 9).” But in verse 8 he says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” So our mere claim of whom we belong to means nothing; it must be verified in our actions.
The only burden this puts on the believer is to live out who they truly are. Because we are children of God we are capable of avoiding sin and capable of doing righteousness (v.6). We need simply to act upon this reality.
For those who say sin no longer matters because we belong to Christ, John makes it clear that our actions do truly matter, or there would be no need to warn against sin, or to be reminded to pursue righteousness. “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor” he adds, “ is the one who does not love his brother. Nearly all sins have victims, and if we sin perpetually, someone is being hurt. The law of love alone should compel us to stop such behavior.
Finally, lest anyone fear that John is issuing a call to sinless perfection, remember his words from chapter two, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (2:1).” Not only does this comfort us if we feel the burden of our sins, the tremendous love of Christ is also further motivation to live without the sin He so despises He died for it.
By Tom Hoffman