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Friday, August 24, 2012

Practicing Sin

I wrote recently about judging rightly. Not a particularly warm entry, I know, but it was a biblical one. One of the primary passages I mentioned was 1 John 3:9. You remember. "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

The verse contains some things I was generally taught to avoid -- absolutes. "No one", "cannot", things like that. That is, "There isn't a single person who is born of God and makes a practice of sin. Why? Those who are born of God lack the ability ... 'cannot'. Why? Because God's seed resides in them." Rather absolute. That's a rather solemn and harsh judgment, but it's not mine, so I commend it.

The question comes up, of course, "What is 'makes a practice of sin'?" That is, are we talking about people who are simply mistaken or confused, or can we be specific? The answer is that there are indeed specifics available. You see, as it turns out, John isn't alone in his assessment. Paul says similar things in multiple places.

Perhaps you recall this phrase: "will not inherit the kingdom of God". Paul uses it in two places.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
Here are two lists of specific conditions for people who "will not inherit the kingdom of God." It's the same concept that John references. "Practice sin" is not "born of God". So, what specifics does Paul offer to help clear up what we're talking about?

Both lists reference sexual sin of various types. There are "fornicators", those who engage in sexual relations outside of marriage, "adulterers", those who engage in sexual relations with someone other than their spouse, and "homosexuals", those who engage in sexual relations with people of the same gender. Note that in the second list, the word translated "immorality" is the same word translated "fornicators" in the first list. Same sin. The word is porneia, a biblical word that covers all sexual sin. So in the final analysis, it is sexual relations of a man and a woman within the bonds of matrimony or ... sin.

The list goes on and I'm sure you can read it for yourself. But there is a key point I wish to point out. In the first list, Paul speaks less of deeds and more of character. The second list speaks of "immorality", for instance, but the first speaks of "fornicators." The distinction may seem small, but it's not. There is a lie, and then there is a liar. The difference is the practice. A person who is known for honesty and falls once into a lie wouldn't typically be thought of as a liar. That term suggests an ongoing condition -- a practice. The idea, then, is precisely the same as John's "practice of sin". Paul is not referencing people who sin (because we all sin), but those who make a practice of fornication, envy, stealing, or strife (to name a few). We can see this further indicated in the verse that follows: "And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). This indicates an end to a practice, a change in character, a new path. Without occasional slip ups? No, not necessarily. But the ongoing practice is terminated.

There is one other key point to bring to your attention. "Can a person who is born of God continue in sin because he/she just doesn't know?" John says it cannot happen ("cannot" is his word). "The seed of God abides in him." That is, it isn't dependent on the believer's level of knowledge. Paul tells more. You see, that second list is part of an explanation. "I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Gal 5:16-17). You see, the believer is indwelt with the Spirit, given a new nature, made into the "new man". Informed by the Spirit, directed by the Spirit, undergoing sanctification (1 Cor 6:11) and discipline (Heb 12:4-11), the one born of God, saved by Christ, truly born again is altered and trained, being shaped into the image of the Son of God (Rom 8:28-29). So it may go on for a short while, but rest assured that God won't let it go on indefinitely.

We like to think we're okay. We like to think that we should just keep our mouths shut and let people be. If, indeed, there are people who believe they are "born of God" but "make a practice of sin", and if these people will not inherit the kingdom of God, it seems to me that being silent is a cruel thing, a selfish device to save myself trouble at the expense of those who don't know God, especially when they think they do. So I feel an obligation, out of genuine concern for those around me, to be heard here, not mincing words, not keeping quiet, and not being politically correct. This isn't intolerance or judgmentalism. I need to examine myself against this list (and the alternate list of those who are filled with the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)) to see that I'm not "mistaken", practicing sin. And I need to call others around me to that same standard for their sakes. But, look, I'm sure they'll thank me for it, right? Well, maybe not.

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