Abiding in Christ and not sinning
“And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” –1 John 3:5, 6
The course of thought in this passage is exceedingly significant. First, John affirms one of the plainest truths in the whole gospel system, viz. that Jesus Christ came in human flesh to take away our sins. “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” This is an established truth of the gospel and no Christian could be supposed to be ignorant of this.
Jesus Christ who took away the sins of the world, must himself be sinless. It seems a necessary condition for him to be adapted to save his people from their sins. Thus “In him, Christ, was no sin.” His life must be an excellent light and be an example of a sinless purity; he must have no sin of his own to prevent him from communion with the Father.
The next step in the chain of thought is that whosoever abideth in the sinless One cannot be sinning himself. If any man shall come into relations so close, so intimate, with Jesus Christ, he should be incompatible with a present actual sinful life. He that is now sinning knows not Christ as his Savior–“hath not seen Him neither known him.”
Precisely this is what John affirms. He who abides in Christ is not sinning; he doth not commit sin. This is plainly declared. Hence, we need to understand what it is to be in Christ.
1. Being in Christ implies that we are out of ourselves, in the sense in which selfish men are in themselves. It implies that we renounce ourselves as to any will or way of our own. A selfish heart regards itself and its own interests as supreme. The selfish man lives to himself. Self is the precise end for which he lives, labors, plans, and cares. A natural man is in himself but once he is in Christ, he must cease to live and to be in himself, and must in the same sense, come to be and to live, in Christ.
2. Being in Christ implies that we commit ourselves to him, to be pardoned by his blood, quickened by his grace, controlled by his will. Men often used this term without really taking heed to its purpose and meaning.
To commit yourself to Christ implies that you merge yourself in him and make him your end of life. The glory of Christ becomes your supreme motive and purpose in life. You merge your will in his will, so that, apart from the will of Christ, you have no will of your own. You wish for nothing, but to pleases him and to live for him.
A similar situation could be observed in some human relations. There are situations when one so merges himself in the will of another as to think nothing of his own will. The subordinate officer so merges his own will in the will of his commander that he seeks only to learn and to carry out his will. In times of peril, where safety depends on the energetic action of one leading mind or the captain of a ship in a storm, his men think of nothing but to hang upon his will, catch its intimations and hasten to obey.
Thus, though that in Christ have to sink into Christ in a far higher sense than we ever should, or safely can, into any other being. This also implies that we take refuge in Him. In many beautiful passages of Scripture, the Christian is represented as taking refuge in Jesus Christ. He is a great rock which casts its grateful shadow in a very desert land; or a jutting rock, cleft on the mountainside, under which one may find shelter from the storm; or a strong tower into which the righteous runs and is safe.
So faith takes refuge in him from all the evils of this evil world, and from the more dire wrath that is to come! Faith seeks refuge in him as an atoning sacrifice and as one who has laid his life down for the sins of the world; also as a righteous Advocate before God who always prevails and who will surely plead our cause.
So the believer, by faith, loses himself in Christ. He no longer appears as one making atonement for his past sins; he thinks of no such thing, nor does he appear as his own advocate before God; he dares not and would not; it is enough for him that he has Jesus Christ.
Similar in some respects, according to the law of some countries, the wife loses herself in her husband. She is no longer recognized as an entity on her own in law; she relinquishes her name, her property under certain contingencies, and is known only as being in him. This is just an illustration of the point in hand. None need fears that they shall be too entirely lost in Christ. To be lost in him is man’s highest peace and glory.
Those that in Christ accept him as “Paracletus,” in the sense of 1 John 2:1. “If any man sin, we have a Paracletos with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” This term denotes a next friend, a legal advocate who pleads their cause and who appears for them before the courts. When Christ takes his people into himself; he hides them in himself so that he appears for them and they are not seen. Wao this is marvelous.
To be in Christ is to be in him as members of his body. He is the Head which is the great center and fountain of nervous energy; from which the vital currents flow out to every member of the body. Thus to be in Christ is to be constantly supplied with life and power from him, the Head.
It implies, to be fully possessed and controlled by his presence. The old self is dead and Christ becomes our life. This is one of the most common figures used in Scripture.
“He that abideth thus in him sinneth not.”
I understand this to be true in the sense that his disposition to sin is taken away, and his mind is drawn into the opposite attitude which is the true love to God and obedience. He no longer has a selfish disposition; the moral attitude of his soul is reversed.
In abiding in Christ, we live a life of faith. The heart depends on Christ for its strength, moment by moment, as little children live a life of faith in their parents, while they are drawn by love and live in constant trust. When they see their father enters the room, the little ones run to meet him for a smile and a caress. They expect their daily bread from his hands. Their hungry souls live on the tokens of his love and approbation.
This is faith working by love. So the Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ. There is no life to him, out of Christ. The fact is, there is a wonderful difference between living on one’s self and living on Christ. He who lives on himself is forever anxious, restive, as one who is conscious of being too weak to bear his own burdens; but he who lives on Christ is out of weakness made strong with a strength all above his own. He knows what it is to repose on Christ.
To abide in Christ is to live a life of love. One cannot live in sin while he abides in Christ. Then “abiding in him,” surely includes love to him as the ruling element. You are in Christ as a friend is one with a friend. Thus in him, you honor his name, love his character, devote yourself to his interests. To do this is to be controlled by love.
The spirit of love entails keeping Christ’s commandments. Christ said, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, is he that loveth me,”. This means that obedience is the natural and necessary outgrowth of love. It should be always understood that love is the underlying principle of all obedience and nothing is obedience but that which springs from love. On the other hand, we cannot disobey so long as love rules the heart.
So then abiding in Christ, therefore, is a state of mind which by its own nature excludes sin. It must not be forgotten that all sin is voluntary disobedience and cannot be anything else. To make anything else sin, is unlogical. Living in Christ, therefore, must exclude sinning.
It is generally admitted that this text means so much as to say that those who abide in Christ do not sin habitually. However, the writer goes on to say abiding in Christ is to be saved from really sinning. Nothing less can supply the great want of our fallen life.
Since to be in Christ, is exercising a living, active faith, to disobey or to sin would then be in contradiction. whosoever thinks that he abides in Christ yet sinning deceived himself. Thus the Bible testifies:–“If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature”–not merely ought to be, but is. So throughout the Bible, it is explicitly clear that being in Christ implies living without sin.
To imagine that faith in Christ for salvation from sin left the soul yet in sin is to suggest that the work of Christ is incomplete. For being in Christ by faith has for its special object, victory over sin. And faith is declared to be that which gives the victory over the world. (1 John 5:4)
Hence when we sin, we are no longer in Christ, but out of Christ. This is implied in the text, and it equally follows from the very nature of being in him. To be in Christ, men must not only know and feel those truths, but they must receive them to their hearts in love. Faith holds on upon the sustaining arm of Jesus. Thus holding fast, you are sustained. But if you let go, you will fall. You will lose his protection, his support, and lose his power.
Sometimes men think they had faith, but in actual facts, it is all selfish. Most of the time, the mind is dark and doubtful. You need to understand, brethren, that you may be in general covenant relation to Christ, and yet not have this personal faith and this intimate union which saves the soul from sin, because it so unites us to Christ.
Stepping into the soul-transforming union
In the first place do not begin with assuming that the thing is exceedingly difficult. Do not impeach your loving Savior by supposing that He is so far off and so averse that you can have at least but faint hope of ever finding him. No indeed; for lo, HE CALLETH THEE even now; arise and go to him. He seeks this very union.
Then the next and main thing is to cast out from your heart all other lovers and all rivals to your Lord. Let your heart go out to him alone. Let your will be lost in his will; not lost in the sense of being annihilated, but in the better sense of being submitted – merged in his will. Let it be enough for you to know and follow his will.
Dismiss all selfish ideas and all selfish pursuits. Cease to form selfish schemes, or to scramble after selfish good. Be satisfied with Christ and his love; so shall he accept your heart’s love and make you his own.