4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness; for sin is lawlessness.1 John 3:4-6
5 But you know that He was manifested in order to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin.
6 Whoever abides in Him sins not, whoever sins has not seen Him nor known Him.
This passage turns up the contrast knob for us to see the difference between the workers of iniquity with those born of God who do righteousness (2:29). Again, John’s epistle is one of assurance. The faltering saint should read verses like this, and instead of curling up in a ball of fear, should have all their fears melted by the glory of the Gospel contained here.
John has already established that the saint is delivered from the sin nature, and provision has been made for sin due to remaining corruption. What John brings to view here is the individual who continues in their sin, relishes their sin, won’t leave their sin, won’t fight their sin. True saints have seen & known Jesus, and thus their sin stings them. Transgressors don’t care about their sin, they only love maintaining their appearance as a brother. But their continuation in sin marks them as a false brother.
Verse 4 provides a wonderful shorthand for what sin is. It is lawlessness. It is “anomos”: without law. This goes against the grain of our culture which wants to redefine sin as mental illness, or repressed sexual desires, or the results of social oppression. John makes a simple statement here that sin is the transgressing of the law, or living as if there were no law.
Paul makes a similar point in Rom. 2:14-15. Though the Gentiles were without the Law, they generally follow that which is contained in the Law (e.g. prohibitions against theft, falsehoods, murder). This leaves them judged by the law which God has written on the conscience of all men. This means that there is a Law above us all. Sin isn’t decided by democratic process, or by chemical imbalance, or by social moulding. It is the breaking of God’s holy law.
Thus, we are all left as law-breakers. So, John brings us the sweeping grandeur of the Gospel. Again Christ’s incarnation of the prologue (1:1-4) is brought back to view. Jesus was manifested to take away sins. This is your only comfort. Jesus takes away sins. He takes away big sins, small sins. Sins of all shapes and sizes. The sins of pharisees and the sins of prostitutes and even the sins of politicians. He takes them all away for those who abide in Him. He can do this because He bore the cross in our stead. He took our judgement, because He became a man who could indeed take our place; yet because He was the Christ, He also could remain without sin and thus be a righteous substitute.
In light of this, verse 6 tells us that by abiding in Him, as John has repeatedly admonished, we sin not. In other words, our legal status before God is “not guilty.” One commentator makes a useful observation here about a contrast between 2:1 and here in the second part of verse 6. The verb tense in the latter is aorist, whereas the sin here is in the present tense. This contrast would be evident to John’s audience. The takeaway is “the believer may fall into sin but he will not walk in it.”1 Sinning is not the same as continuing in sin.
So then, we see that abiding in Christ is our only protection against the wrath that rests on those who continue in sin. John instructs us in the basics of Christian living. Abiding in Christ is to know and see Jesus
- 1 John 3:4-6 | Sin is Lawlessness
- 1 John 3:1-3 | What Unearthly Love
- 1 John 2:28-29 | A Trumpet Blast for Feeble Saints
- 1 John 2:24-27 | The Pastoral Prerogative for Run-on Sentences
- 1 John 2:20-23 | Knowing All Things
- 1 John 2:18-19 | Rival Christs
- 1 John 2:15-17 | The Imperative to Not Love
- 1 John 2:12-14 | Pastoral Poetry
- 1 John 2:9-11 | The Gospel Scandal
- 1 John 2:7-8 | Nothing New, But All is New
1 Smith, David. The Expositors Greek Testament. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. Vol. Five. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979. Pg 184