“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
1 John 3:4-8
WHEN A BALLPLAYER GOES TO BATTING PRACTICE, HE’S TRYING TO GET HITS. He employs study of the pitcher and the form of the swing. He receives feedback and instruction from coaches, and he exerts tireless effort taking pitch after pitch, muscling swing after swing. He strikes some. He flies out some. He fouls some. He hits some. He’s aiming for base hits, doubles, triples, and home runs. Statistically, he’s happy if he’s successful less than one third of the time. While one may question his skill, no one questions his aim. He is practicing hitting. He isn’t practicing striking or fouling or flying out. We know the aim of his heart. So why is it that when Christians come to 1 John 3, we are so confused by the language? I mean, yes, I do still sin. So am I practicing sin? I do good, but am I good enough? Will the blood of Jesus cleanse me? How long do I have to go without sinning to prove that I’m worthy? How much sin is too great to be forgiven? Does the good just need to outweigh the bad? Such thinking places salvation nearly entirely upon human performance, with a little grace to make the deficit. When it comes to baseball, we know the player is practicing hitting, even when he strikes out. But when it comes to faith, we sometimes think a slipup is a sign that his heart isn’t in it at all. “You know, that guy, I see him mess up often. He is just not acting like a Christian,” someone may say. Supposedly mature Christians who preach performance based salvation project the belief that the saved are people who have learned to achieve near perfection. They act as though they hardly ever sin. So why didn’t God give us an acceptable batting average required to make the team and remain on the starting lineup? Perhaps because salvation is based upon something else entirely–grace.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9).
You can know you’re saved. While 1 John 3 may seem confusing when viewed through the lens of warped theology, the Holy Spirit was quite clear. You know your heart like nobody else does. What are you practicing? What is your aim? The message of the gospel is good news that sinners may be saved, not the perfect or nearly perfect (if they exist at all)! When God looked upon David, he saw the whole of the man. He did not see David the adulterer or the murderer. He saw a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22). Would that we could learn to see people–to see ourselves–the way God does; No labels, but a person made in God’s own image. How can that possibly be? Only through one Way–Jesus. So study, join a local fellowship of believers, seek wise counselors and mentors, practice righteousness, and all the while know that Jesus has you in his heart. You belong to him. You may mess up daily. You may perceive that you mess up more than someone else. But Jesus just says to practice righteousness. You don’t have to achieve perfection on your own. You don’t have to measure up to the seemingly perfect people in suits and fine dresses on Sunday morning. Just give Jesus your life. With the tenacity and discipline of an athlete, keep stepping up to the plate, and keep swinging.
Life is hard enough without an unnecessary condemnation complex. When it really sinks in that God could love so much, that he can forgive even me, his love will drive our hearts to rise above our sin with power and determination that fear alone could never muster. We will desire God more intensely than any temporal pleasure, for in him we will find a resonating satisfaction that cannot be imitated by any earthly experience or substance. We will find more than freedom from our sin; we will find a loving Father.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
FANNY J. CROSBY, 1873