No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him...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. [1 John 3:6, 9]Clearly, John doesn't mean to say that those who "abide" in the God we know in Jesus are incapable of sinning. In the previous chapter, for example, he writes: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." [1 John 2:1]
I think instead, that John is saying, first of all, that when we abide in Jesus, our desire for sin is changed. We recognize that the life God has in mind for us--and modeled for us perfectly in Jesus--is so much better than the sins we might choose, developing a passion, a thirst for seeking to live according to God's will as revealed in the Bible.
Secondly, when we abide in Jesus, we're tuned into His voice, His Word, His will. When He calls us back from sin, we hear it. Habitual sin drowns out His voice.
A big key to understanding this verse, I think, is that word, abide. In the Greek in which John composed his letter, the word is meno. It has the idea of remaining, sticking with it, always coming back to. We might say, faithfulness.
The bottom line is that Christ is ushered into our lives at our Baptism or when we come to trust in Him as Lord. So long as we continue to trust in Him, keep inviting Him in, He will abide with us. In fact, the only way Christ will fail to be present with us is we willfully evict Him from our lives. Otherwise, He will abide.
The risen Jesus gives us an idea of His intention to stick with us--to literally live with and in us--no matter what in Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."
If we make a habit of a particular sin though, we turn Jesus out. If that habitual sin is done willfully, Jesus is turned away. Jesus will not coexist with willful rejection of Him and His Word.
John is saying that no one grateful for what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross--taking the punishment for sin that we deserve--is going to keep willfully sinning.
They will (I will), of course, sin a thousand times a day. Until our old selves are finally crucified at our deaths, the new self that Jesus has already brought to life in those who believe in Him will not live in perfect fellowship with Christ.
But no one grateful for what Christ accomplished for us on the cross will fail to hear God speaking to them through His Word, through the Sacraments, through prayer, through the fellowship of the Church. Even in this life. The call to repentance, renewal, reform, and restoration will be clear.
I find this immensely comforting. Christ doesn't give up on us.
In my life as a Christian, I have engaged in habitual sin. These sins became so ingrained in me that I nearly forgot Christ. Thank God for all the things I mentioned above--God's Word, the Sacraments, prayer in Jesus' name, and the fellowship of other Christians who give me a kick in the pants and the kiss of grace--for waking me up. Like Jesus calling His dead friend Lazarus back to life from his tomb, Jesus never ties of calling us back from the dead ends of sin, back to life with Him.
So, can I lose Jesus? No. But I can get lost.
What I know is this: I want to abide in Jesus and Him to abide in me for eternity. And as long as I want Jesus, He will stick it out with me.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]