4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
5 And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;
8 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, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
9 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.
10 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, NASB).
1 John 3:5 says that we know something. John has already said that he is not writing us because we do not know, but because we all know, and we have an anointing from the Holy One (1 John 2:20,21). He is telling us something that is to resonate strongly within each of us. This is not new or secret knowledge.
This is what we know: that He appeared in order to take away sins, and that in Him, there is no sin. If you say to any Christian, “are you saying that Christianity isn’t about Jesus dying for our sins?” They will always say, “No, of course I’m not saying that! I would never say that!” We all know this, we don’t need teaching about it really. However, although it is something we know, it is something we need to be reminded of.
“Take away” means to draw up, as a fish. John here seems to mean that He not only removes the guilt of our sin in forgiveness, but also the lawless practice of our sin. He is an agent in our purification. It doesn’t make sense to think that you could be forgiven and yet still love the thing; you wouldn’t think you need to be forgiven of something that you actually cherish. You would just resent the intrusion of someone into the thick of your cherished thing.
We must remember that John does not place the forgiveness of sin in opposition to the cleansing of sin from our practice. In our current climate, it is tempting to set these in opposition. But John says:
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1 John 1:9, NASB).
His faithfulness and righteousness act to forgive us, and to cleanse us. Obviously, if we confess, we come to Him agreeing that our sin is lawless and evil. We come in sorrow, regretting our transgressions. Such a stance says at the outset, I wish I had never done it, and by inference, I hope to never do it again. Confession to God really says, take this sin out of me, guilt and gumption. I am reminded again of Augustine’s confession:
And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: “And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities.” For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”
By coming to Him and confessing our sin, we acknowledge that we have no faith in ourselves to carry out our repentance, and we put all of our faith in Him to cleanse us. So if He appeared to take away sins, it means that our past sin, for which we carry the guilt, is taken away, and our future sin, for which we fear that we may again fall into, is taken away. It is a unity, there are not two positions. We do not confess our guilt alone, we confess our sin. Our sin is the entire constitution we bear by which we chose evil from the heart in the first place. If we cannot depend on a very strong grace then we cannot face the idea that we still have the seeds of sin in us, we cannot confess this truly.
In this section, John is emphasizing that those who come to Christ come to the One who takes away sin. Notice here that it is He who takes away sin. He appeared in order to take away sins. The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7) He is the One who is faithful and righteous to forgive and to cleanse (1 John 1:9). He is the One who takes sin away from us.
If I am tied to a chair and gagged like a spy in a movie that’s been caught, I can’t free myself. I need someone else to do it. Once I’m freed, I get out of the chair; it’s not some herculean effort. Freedom lends itself to action. If you’re not getting up out of the chair, it is some sign that you are still bound; maybe your feet are still bound and they forgot that part. If you have been forgiven and you keep doing it, there is still some part of you still wrapped up in it, some part you are afraid to confess. The sin is not quite cleansed. This doesn’t make the forgiveness untrue or worth nothing! Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11). She was led to the very edge of death, and He quite literally saved her.
So, is it really so strange to think that Christ our savior came to save us? If we are so greatly forgiven, is it not strange that we would also be cleansed from that which drove us to sin? If the one thing is a kindness, isn’t the other a kindness as well? It is not untrue or moralistic to say that when He takes away our sin, He takes away our guilt and our compulsion to that sin. It does not mean there must be a sinless perfection or we will be rejected. It means those who confess and seek to apply His blood to their current present sin, will be cleansed on the whole, and in the areas where we still lack the liberty of holiness, there is further grace. We jump off the cliff, trusting wholly in the miraculous intervention of our savior, to save us to the uttermost. Neither our forgiveness nor our cleansing must be born of ourselves, of our flesh, but of the miracle of God in us. I can neither atone for my own sins nor cleanse myself of them into the future. I come to Him, empty and bereft and guilty and dirty, saying, “Lord, You are the One who takes away sin! Forgive me and cleanse me today. Now is when I need you! I can do none of this, I come in need and I have no solution of my own.” HE is the One who takes away sin, He does not say, “take away your sin, and then I will come to you.” He says,
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes.
26 “Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.
27 “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.
30 “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
(Matthew 11:25-30, NASB)