Practicing sin and practicing righteousness 1 John 3:4-10

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).

We are working slowly through these verses, and today we are looking at 1 John 3:7,8. We have in verse 7 the only actual direct imperative statement of the whole passage: “Little children, let no one deceive you.” This stems from the context of 1 John 2:19,22, in which he says there are antichrists in their midst who are of the liar Satan and will eventually leave from their midst. The threat is that they will be deceived, and the imperative is that they don’t allow that deception to take place in their mind. It’s not to be read as an imperative to be righteous as it is to recognize the lawless one and to keep from being deceived.

The one who actually practices righteousness is righteous. The one who practices righteousness is the one who walks in the light, acknowledges their sin, confesses it and believes the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. There will be an evidence in their lives, not of a veneer of perfection, but of walking in the light, and of confession and cleansing. There will be evidence, not of a pretense of perfect purity, but of ongoing purification (1 John 3:3). There will be a candor and a lack of pretense, and a corresponding assent that righteousness is good and is something to be hungered after. I think there really is a sense in the way it plays out in the flow of the text, that he means practice in the sense that practice makes perfect. There is an ongoing imperfection but there is a progress and a cleansing going on. A beginner violin player may only be capable of the worst screeches and may play so out of tune that it truly brings tears to your eyes, but if they are practicing and making progress there isn’t much more that you can expect. Once they have played for years and have become an accomplished virtuoso, do they not practice all the more?

The word “practice” is obviously front row and center here. It is the Greek word poieo poieo {poy-eh’-o}, meaning “to make”, as in to form, produce, construct, be the author of, prepare, provide, etc. It certainly carries the idea, if you think about it, of putting something there that wasn’t there before, and doing it consistently over time.

In context, the assumption here is that John’s readers do practice righteousness (1 John 2:12,13,14), and the antichrists pretend to do so but don’t (1 John 2:18,19). The indicative is to be careful not to be deceived by these people.

For a moment I want to channel my inner John MacArthur. Taking it this way, that one can practice the truth in the sense of a lack of perfection but a belief in the power of Christ’s blood and confession in its light, is playing fast and loose with the obvious meaning. It says, the one who practices righteousness is righteous, and the one who practices sin is of the devil. You can’t get more clear than that. He doesn’t mean anything squishy and feely when he says they practice these things – he means they DO it. Stop twisting this! It clearly is meant to be an exhortation to practically and pragmatically do righteous stuff and to avoid doing sinful stuff. You are massacring this passage.

I would answer that it is not I who massacre. The truth is, there is not a person who has ever lived besides Jesus Christ who would look at this passage without fear. No one practices righteousness in the sense of never sinning, that is the whole point of the gospel. Even the most ardent “Lordship salvation” proponent would have to concede this point, and this concession is the secret to finding the true understanding of the passage. A careful look at the actual text of 1 John shows that he never actually gives an imperative which is contrary to 1 John 1:5-10. The admonition to walk in the light is the central imperative of 1 John, and it is completely centered around Christ and Him crucified. The hard “Lordshippy” take on the passage actually does violence to the real context of 1 John: if we say we have no sin, we lie (1 John 1:8,10).

The practice of righteousness is to walk in the light. The practice of righteousness is to love as Christ has loved us – with acceptance and forgiveness and grace despite our sin and shortcomings. The practice of righteousness is to confess our sinfulness, to admit our need for cleansing, to admit that after all we don’t love well. The practice of righteousness is to confess, to go to the throne of grace, to allow God to apply the blood to today’s need. It is to be done without pretense and hiding and posing, coming clean with God and others. Our practice of righteousness from John’s perspective is to be all wrapped up in Christ and His propitiation, and if our idea of the practice of righteousness is divorced from this we actually advocate for the Christless position of the antichrist. Abiding in Him means to walk in the light with Him, and to depend on Him to cleanse us of all unrighteousness, and is not to be done with the pretense of our own strength to do so.

Posted in Blog and tagged .


  1. Hi Jim – terrific Bible study, thanks!

    One query: you wrote, ” It is to be done with pretense and hiding and posing, and to come clean with God and others” near the end. Do you not mean “NOT to be done”?

  2. I was just talking yesterday about the power of practice. A musician who has practiced diligently may occasionally give a performance that’s beneath his usual standard, but his many hours of practice don’t abandon him. Those who know can tell the difference between a well-practiced musician having an off day and a musician who has not practiced much at all performing true to form. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but I think it’s a good general principle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *