In my introduction to this post, we looked at the contrast between a true Christian and a counterfeit Christian. We learned a true believer does not live in habitual sin because he loves God and wants to obey his heavenly Father. As we continue our study in John’s first letter (1 Jn. 3:1–10), he gives us a third reason for living a holy life.
3. GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT LIVES IN US (3:9–10)
“Whosoever is born of God does not practice sin!” Why? Because he has a new nature within him and that new nature cannot sin. John calls this new nature God’s “seed.”
When a person receives Christ as his Savior, tremendous spiritual changes take place in him. He is given a new standing before God, being accepted as righteous in God’s sight. This new standing is called “justification.” It never changes and is never lost.
The new Christian is also given a new position: he is set apart for God’s own purposes to live for His glory. This new position is called “sanctification,” and it has a way of changing from day to day. On some days we are much closer to Christ and obey Him much more readily.
Justification means a new standing before God, sanctification means being set apart to God, and regeneration means a new nature—God’s nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
But perhaps the most dramatic change in a new believer is what we call “regeneration.” He is “born again” into the family of God. The only way to enter God’s family is by trusting Christ and experiencing this new birth. Physical life produces only physical life; spiritual life produces spiritual life. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn. 3:6). Christians have been born again, “not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to convict of sin and to reveal the Savior.
We are saved by faith (Eph. 2:8–9), and “faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17). In the miracle of the new birth the Holy Spirit imparts new life—God’s life—to a believing sinner and as a result the individual is born into the family of God.
Just as physical children bear the nature of their parents, so too God’s spiritual children bear His nature. The divine “seed” is in them. A Christian has an old nature from his physical birth and a new nature from his spiritual birth. The New Testament contrasts these two natures and gives them various names:
Old Nature: New Nature:
The old nature produces sin, but the new nature leads to a holy life. A Christian’s responsibility is to live according to his new nature, not the old nature.
One way to illustrate this is by contrasting the “outer” man with the “inner” man (2 Cor. 4:16). The physical man needs food, and so does his inner or spiritual man. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Unless a Christian spends time daily meditating on the Word of God, his inner man will lack power.
A converted Indian explained, “I have two dogs living in me—a mean dog and a good dog. They are always fighting. The mean dog wants me to do bad things and the good dog wants me to do good things. Do you want to know which dog wins? The one I feed the most!”
A Christian who feeds the new nature from the Word of God will have power to live a godly life. We are to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Rom. 13:14).
The physical man needs cleansing and so does the inner man. We wash our hands and face frequently. A believer should look into the mirror of God’s Word daily (Jas. 1:22–25) and examine himself. He must confess his sins and claim God’s forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9). Otherwise the inner man will become unclean and this uncleanness will breed infection and “spiritual sickness.”
Unconfessed sin is the first step in what the Bible calls “backsliding”—gradually moving away from a close walk with Christ into a life filled with the alien world in which we live.
God’s promise, “I will cure you of backsliding” (Jer. 3:22), implies backsliding resembles physical sickness. First is the secret invasion of the body by a disease. Then infection follows and there is a gradual decline: no pep, no appetite, and no interest in normal activities. Finally comes the collapse!
Spiritual decline works in a similar way. First sin invades us. Instead of fighting it, we yield to it (Jas. 1:14) and infection sets in. A gradual decline follows. We lose our appetite for spiritual things, we become lethargic and even irritable, and finally we collapse. The only remedy is to confess and forsake our sin, and turn to Christ for cleansing and healing.
The inner man not only needs food and cleansing, but he also needs exercise. “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7). A person who eats, but does not exercise will become overweight; a person who exercises without eating will kill himself. There must be proper balance.
“Spiritual exercise” for a believer, includes sharing Christ with others, doing good works in Christ’s name, and helping to build up other believers. Each Christian has at least one spiritual gift which he is to use for the good of the church (1 Cor. 12:1–11). “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:10).
Here is a vivid commentary on this whole process of temptation and sin: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13–15).
Temptation appeals to our basic natural desires. There is nothing sinful about our desires, but temptation gives us an opportunity to satisfy these desires in an evil way. It is not sin to be hungry, but it is a sin to satisfy hunger out of the will of God. This was the first temptation Satan hurled at Jesus (Matt. 4:1–4).
The two terms, “dragged away” and “enticed” (Jas. 1:14), both relate to hunting or fishing: the putting of bait in a trap or on a hook. The animal (or fish) comes along and his natural desires attract him to the bait. But in taking the bait, he gets caught in the trap or hooked. And the end is death!
Satan baits his traps with pleasures that appeal to the old nature, the flesh. But none of his bait appeals to the new divine nature within a Christian. If a believer yields to his old nature, he will hunger for the bait, take it, and sin. But if he follows the inclination of his new nature, he will refuse the bait and obey God. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
Yielding to sin is the distinguishing mark of “the children of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:10). They profess or claim one thing, but they practice another. Satan is a liar and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), and his children are like their father. “Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in that person” (1 Jn. 2:4). The children of the devil try to deceive God’s children into thinking a person can be a Christian and still practice sin. “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7).
False teachers in John’s day taught a Christian did not have to worry about sin because only the body sinned and what the body did in no way affected the spirit. Some of them went so far as to teach sin is natural to the body because the body is sinful.
The New Testament exposes the foolishness of such excuses for sin. To begin with, “the old nature” is not the body. The body itself is neutral: it can be used either by the old sinful nature or by the new divine nature. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:12–13).
How does a child of God go about overcoming the desires of the old nature? He must begin each day by yielding his body to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). He must spend time reading and studying the Word of God, “feeding” his new nature. He must take time to pray, asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit, and give him power to serve Christ and glorify Him. As he goes through the day, a believer must depend on the power of the Spirit in the inner man. When temptations come, he must immediately turn to Christ for victory.
The Word of God in his heart will help to keep him from sin if only he will turn to Christ. “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). If he does sin, he must instantly confess to God and claim forgiveness. But it is not necessary for him to sin. By yielding his body to the Holy Spirit within him, he will receive the power he needs to overcome the tempter. A good practice is to claim God’s promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
A Sunday School teacher was explaining the Christian’s two natures—the old and the new—to a class of teenagers. “Our old nature came from Adam,” he explained “and our new nature comes from Christ, who is called ‘the Last Adam.” He had the class read 1 Corinthians 15:45: “So it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”
“This means there are two ‘Adams’ living in me,” said one of the teenagers.
“That’s right,” the teacher replied. “And what is the practical value of this truth?”
The class was silent for a moment and then a student spoke up. “This idea of the ‘two Adams’ really helps me in fighting temptation,” he said. “When temptation comes knocking at my door, if I send the first Adam to answer, I’ll sin. But if I send the Last Adam, I’ll get victory.”
A true believer does not practice sin; a counterfeit believer cannot help but practice sin because he does not have God’s new nature within him. The true believer also loves other Christians, which is discussed in detail in 1 John 3:11–24.
But these words were not written so that you and I might check on other people. They were inspired so that we may examine ourselves. Each of us must answer honestly before God:
- Do I have the divine nature within me or am I merely pretending to be a Christian?
- Do I cultivate this divine nature by daily Bible reading and prayer?
- Has any unconfessed sin defiled my inner man? Am I willing to confess and forsake it?
- Do I allow my old nature to control my thoughts and desires, or does the divine nature rule me?
- When temptation comes, do I “play with it” or do I flee from it? Do I immediately yield to the divine nature within me?
The life that is real does not pretend, but is honest with God about these vital issues. Are you?