Often, within a few minutes of meeting someone at a social gathering you are asked, “What do you do?” This ice breaker gives the other person some simple information about you to continue to conversation. And for most people, answering the question elicits a minimal reaction. However, if you are a Mortician, Crime Scene Cleaner, Phlebotomist, or Pastor, there is usually an uncomfortable “Oh!” Then there is the “How did you get into that line of work?” When I am asked that I am tempted to say, “Well, millions of people are dying today and most of them are going to Hell! How ’bout you, buttercup?” Or, I am a Makeover Specialist with a 2000 year old institution. Or, I am a Longevity Consultant.
In Sunday’s passage the Apostle John asks his readers, “What do you do?” But he is not trying to get to know them but to grow them. They were in danger of being deceived, 1 John 3:7, thinking sin for the believer is a benign thing. Today I fear far too many believers have been a victim of this deception.
Read through the 1 John 3:4-10. Six times the word “practice” or “practices” is used. It is the Greek word “poieō.” It means “to do.” There is a saying, practice makes perfect, that is not true. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Here John so speaks of practices sin or righteousness. And this is why most pastors do not teach 1 John. They know the have to come to our passage and this “practice”eventually.
Most people are good with the “practice” in verse four, and seven. But in verses 9-10 is where the interpretative wheels begin to wobble. These two verses have caused many a believer to doubt their salvation. Admittedly, it does say, “No one who is born of God practices sin.” And then, verse ten backs up the Dump Truck of Doubt, “By this the Children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God…” There is no way around it. This is a problematic passage not only for preaches but all believers.
One Bible teacher puts the problem this way. “If I were to ask for a raise of hands in a typical evangelical church to indicate if a person thinks he is a genuine Christian, certainly the majority of the people would raise their hands. If I followed the first question with a second asking how many people in the audience still wrestle with sin in their lives, the majority would still raise their hands… But the honest admission of on-going sin in the life of a genuine believer appears to contradict I John 3:7-10.” Are they Christians or not?
Thankfully, there is a rational, biblical, exegetical and soul satisfying answer. One that gives both caution and comfort to our hearts. And showing you the answer, is my goal for Sunday’s teaching.