One common question or prayer concern we receive concerns sin. Things like, how can I stop sinning or stop doing a particular sin? How can I lead a pure life so God can use me? What do I need to do so God answers my prayers? The answer is deceptively simple.
First, however, we must throw away some false ideas. God doesn’t judge our purity or our success at turning from sin to determine His answers to our prayers or our fitness for service or even His love for us. He just doesn’t do that. That all stems from an expectation that we can appease or somehow manipulate God into doing what we want – which is sin.
The apostle John wrote a letter. His word choices in the letter are bold and with little nuance. But the answer to that common question about sin is revealed in his letter. John wrote,
“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He (Jesus) appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4–10, NASB95)
The deceptively simple answer is found in the middle of this text, “no one who abides in Him sins.” How can we stop giving into sin? By abiding in Christ and He in us.
Use whatever language you’d like – If you are born again, have asked Christ into your life, have decided to follow Jesus, then your old sinful self is dead, and you are a new creature in Christ. This doesn’t mean that we suddenly have some kind of “sinless perfection.” Honesty requires us to acknowledge that we still sin. The key to understanding is John’s use of the word “practice.”
When we “practice” something, there is a high level of intent. Our “practice” are those things we intentionally do in order to learn, improve, and eventually do. Athletes practices their abilities. Doctors practices medicine – constantly learning and improving. Musicians practices their instruments and talents to grow their abilities. Behind every moment of greatness, there are thousands of hours of persistent, often mundane, practice.
We, as Christ-followers, practice righteousness as we abide in Christ. We exercise what we see in Christ. We practice love, compassion, justice, mercy, and forgiveness. You can’t really practice not doing something. That may sound strange, but practice requires doing something. John doesn’t advise his readers to practice not sinning, but to practice righteousness by abiding in Christ and letting His life flow from us to the world at our feet.
It may seem that John leaves no room for a believer to ever sin again. We know from practical experience and one other verse that such is not the case. The reality is that if we are in Christ, we practice righteousness and do not practice sin. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sin but that our desire is to avoid it. Earlier in the letter, John writes to the same believers, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8–10, NASB95)
Freedom from sin is only found by abiding in Christ. The mark of abiding is Christ is practicing righteousness. How do you get free from sin? Abide in Christ.