3. The Moral State of Man
In numerous places, Scripture tells us all mankind has sinned. 1 Kings 8:46, Psalm 14:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Romans 3:23 tell us that no one is righteous or does good, and that all have “fallen short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). In fact, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, NIV).
Yet, in the same ancient letter, the author of 1 John also said that he wrote to them “so that [they would] not sin” (1 John 2:1a, NIV). Directly following this, we read, “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1b, NIV). Then one chapter later, in the same letter, he said, “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him” (1 John 3:6, NIV), and “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them …” (1 John 3:9a, NIV).
Does this seem confusing? We all sin, yet we won’t sin? How is that possible?
Two Types of People with Two Types of Hearts
First, we need to understand the original audience in each instance. Some verses, like those cited initially, refer to those who have not turned to Christ for salvation and therefore haven’t received a new, regenerated heart empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Apart from Christ, yes, we are enslaved to sin, and often unable to reach our own standards and ideals, let alone God’s.
Once we turn to Christ, however, and confess Him as Lord, Scripture says we’re changed. He replaces our hardened, stubborn, selfish and sinful hearts with those that seek after Him. But even then, growth and life change are a process that involve progressively yielding to God’s power within. We have moments of surrender followed by instances of pride and rebellion. Yet, if we belong to Christ, God calls us righteous, despite our moral failings because He views us through the lens of Christ. Upon salvation, He, not our actions, became our righteousness.
Speaking of Jesus, 2 Corinthians 5:21 put it this way: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).
This doesn’t fully explain the apparent discrepancies in 1 John, however, as the author was clearly writing to the same audience. In this instance, we can discern his meaning based on context and the original Greek. Some suggest 1 John 1:8 refers to anytime a person breaks God’s moral law, whereas later, the author specifically refers to the sin of apostacy. Others point out the emphasis of the Greek verb “poieo,” which “denotes the habitual working of sin.”
Perhaps we could put John’s words another way, stating “If you say you always act as God desires, you’re lying. But if you continue to live however you want without even trying to please Him, then you don’t really know Him.”
Though many of us tend to read Scripture in bits and pieces, we must remember each section in some way reinforces God’s overarching redemptive story. Every scene, symbolism, hyperbole, and idiom make sense in relation to the whole. When we approach the Bible with this understanding, what once appeared to be a discrepancy becomes clear and rich with truth and depth.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of the Cultivating a Thankful Heart Bible Reading Plan, Hometown Healing and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images