The Christian’s Incompatibility With Sin

by Mike Ratliff

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 ESV)

It is imperative that Christians have a correct and viable theology of suffering. These health, wealth, and prosperity preachers in our time will disagree of course, but let them. We have God’s Truth, His Word, held in objective context held up against their subjective, ear-tickling smoke and mirrors false religion. Oh, there may indeed be some “spirituality” going on in there, but to proclaim, “God is here!” or “God is in this!” or “We are having a Revival, come and join us!” is the very act of man elevating himself above God, telling Him what to do and when. However, I digress, God has always used suffering in the lives of His people to sanctify them, to draw them to prayer, to purify them, to grow them spiritually, and to direct their paths. Paul called some of his suffering a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan (2 Corinthians 12), but allowed by God to keep him from exalting himself because of his great knowledge. When we learn to view the seriousness of our sin as Paul did and God’s glory as imperative then we will begin to understand that sin in the life of a Christian is an anathema in a realistic, daily sense rather than in some sort of abstract give and take. 

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:4-10 ESV)

Here is v4 alone from the ESV: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

Here is v4 in Greek: πας ο ποιων την αμαρτιαν και την ανομιαν ποιει και η αμαρτια εστιν η ανομια.

Here is v4 translated to English word for word from Greek: All the one doing the sin and the lawlessness does, and the sin is the lawlessness.

The verb “makes a practice” in the ESV or “doing” in the word for word translation is ποιων, which, in this context, speaks of performing an act, however, the key is that it is a present active participle. That means it expresses continuous or repeated action, but, since it is a participle, it is contemporaneous with the leading verb in the passage. That verb is ποιει, which is translated as “practices” in the ESV referring to the sinner also practicing lawlessness. Ποιει is the same Greek word, but is present indicative active and is in verb form instead of participle form. Present Indicative verbs assert action that that is occurring right now. All of that to say this, those professing Christians who commit high-handed sin are also guilty of practicing sin as a way of life because they are not regenerate. They are not Christians. What is high-handed sin? It is the act of open rebellion against God and His Law. Think of the 10 Commandments. Our Lord kept them completely in His life. When a believer is saved by Grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9), God also imputes the righteousness of Christ to their account, which is His sinlessness. He also imputes Christ’s perfect active obedience to His Law to them. This is vital for us to understand. We must have both. The first part makes us holy and righteous in God’s eyes. The second part enables us to see the truth about our sinfulness and the importance of walking in repentance from now on. Yes, we have Christ’s obedience imputed to our account, but that is positional. Right now, in terms of out sanctification, we must learn what it means to walk in this life practicing righteousness by walking in repentance. John is very clear in vv4-10 above. The regenerate may sin, but it will not be high-handed sin. It will not be by living in sin as a way of life. What will this look like practically?

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:11-24 ESV)

The truly Born Again will have love growing at the center of the character. It will be the central part of their new nature. Yes, God will make each of them an exhibit His own holiness through them, them, but He will also bring each to places where this love for one another will be expressed in ways unimagined in the unregenerate (John 13:35; Romans 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:9). The practicing of this type of love for one another is a marker of the New Birth. From this the believer receives greater assurance of salvation (vv17-21), experiences answered prayer (v22), and the abiding presence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit (v23, 24).

I do not get to attend our church as often as I would like. When we travel we often attend a large church in a another state. I like the pastor. However, there are some things going in the that church that are troubling to my discernment, but the love John wrote of above is all over it. I had an interesting visit yesterday. The sermon was fantastic. However, during the flock class we attended with my daughter and son-in-law as their guests I felt a bit out of place right away. I prayed before that God would give me wisdom in how to respond to things that were said. In any case, the lesson was on the last several verses in James. The lesson was about prayer, faith, healing, et cetera. We had just come from a sermon on suffering well and it was fantastic. In any case, toward the end, the flock leader quoted Erwin McManus as an example in praying expectantly. I sat there, but said nothing. I had absolutely no urge to say anything and neither did anyone else. It went nowhere so the leader went to his next point. In any case, the class ended with many prayer needs and people praying for each other. It was a very good example of how we should be with each other as believers exhibiting God’s love.

Later that evening, I asked my daughter about that. She just grinned. She knew that I knew who McManus was and that I had written some things about Mosaic and his ministry before. It was then that I realized that that church is like a microcosm is what is going on in the visible Church right now. Yes, there is the Orthodox. There are those who seek God’s truth and no other, but then there are still the unwise intermixed there who seem to be focused more on men and what they say and do. We must pray for wisdom and discernment in these strange times my brethren.

Soli Deo Gloria!

24 thoughts on “The Christian’s Incompatibility With Sin

  1. I was just ministering unto a few people here and there this week on just that very thing, brother Mike. Yes, they are strange times indeed, but very blessed times when we see the providential hand of God in these kinds of situations, which keep us embracing God’s grace, casting ourselves before the cross, standing upon God’s Word, and clinging to Christ alone, seeking His mercy in times of need.

    Blessings to you, dear brother.

  2. That I would be more like that Mike. I wrestle with allowing these things to go unchallenged (McManus) thereby possibly allowing for others to be deceived by them by believing that McManus is orthoxed in his beliefs. I know that God does not need us to defend His truth, yet aren’t we called to do that. I suppose there is a time and place to do that. Like I say, I wrestle with this in my own thoughts.

  3. Oh, I did indeed struggle with Fred, but since no one seemed interesting in following that bunny trail I didn’t either. Also, I did pray for wisdom there and I things did turn out pretty well. I am praying for that flock leader and the leadership at that church to for wisdom and discernment.

  4. Thanks for the post, Mike, and glad to see you are back!
    While reading this it came to mind that the long faces of some church people just might be related to my witnessing activities, but not because of misunderstanding. Maybe it is because they are unregenerate themselves, and are manifesting what you covered above.
    If so, this matter will need o be handld differently.

  5. Thanks for the reply Mike. I believe what you are saying, and correct me if I am wrong, is that we need to use wisdom and discernment in choosing our battles. We can not just swing the sword of truth indiscriminately.

  6. You are welcome Fred, yes, that is what I believe. My first tendency is indeed to swing the sword of truth indiscriminately like Richard the Lion-Heart in a great battle against the infidels, but who am I? I know nothing and according to our Lord, without Him I can do nothing, so yes, we must use the wisdom and discernment from the Lord in the Truth War. The Lord will choose our battles for us. If we choose them then we will end up in endless arguing like that that occurred not that long ago with CRN.INFO and who needs that? I left that battle very quickly for all it does is consume all of our precious time in useless arguing. These battles should be for God’s glory and the recovery of the Gospel and reformation of the Church. It should never be for our glory and I sense that there is a tendency for some of us (me included) to want to express our intellect a bit too much, to (like Paul) to show our learning (whatever that means). In any case, all of that is useless. Let us seek only to fight the battles God gives us to fight in His strength for His glory alone.

  7. The Holy Spirit amazes me. I have just finished reading Andrew Murray’s book titled , Absolute Submission. In this he makes the claim that we are operating in the flesh when we think that knowldege can combat falsehood. We must understand that we can do nothing without the Spirit. He basically is saying what you are saying. I need to hear more on this so it becomes ingrained in me. Please keep posting more material on this subject. I believe many of us see what is going on and have a zeal to stop it. I know since the Purpose Drven war I have become like that. But we must check our motives and on whom we are depending on. Thanks so much for this post and your comments. It is edifying for me. As I said, I really wrestle here.

  8. Fred, you and I are on the very same page brother. I look around and want to just rip the sword out of the scabbard and go at it. What in the world are these people thinking! Sigh, but again, could this be part of the cleansing God is doing to the body? Is is further preparing us to wait on Him, to get our motives right, to not slay brothers who are confused along with those who are leading them astray… Very confusing and strange times. This calls for a wisdom and discernment from God and it will be expressed both in boldness and a patience that is Christlike. Think about that brother. Think of how our Lord would approach this. Think of how Paul would approach this or Peter or John. Yes we have enemies in the camp. Yes there are wolves in sheep’s clothing leading many astray. Then we have some in our pulpits and teaching classes who do everything right then quote outright heretics like Rob Bell or even worse… I just don’t get it. This is indeed humbling don’t you think? Could this be the point? I often wonder at that….

    I think I need to get Andrew Murray’s book. You are the second person to recommend it to me.

  9. It’s very good to read all these comments.
    Christian people do seem to be confused as to which is the right way, now that Scripture is no longer “The Word of God”.
    May He indeed help us, as we seek to do His Will!

  10. Dear Mike,
    You have touched on a key element in the Christian life when you wrote, “preparing us to wait on Him, to get our motives right, to not slay brothers who are confused along with those who lead them astray…” Is this what is meant by Matthew 24:11-13? “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” We need to “overcome evil with good.” Romans 13:21 The only way to keep the proper perspective it to remember that Christ loved and died for us when we were yet in our sins. We must extend this same grace to others, yet, at the same time up hold the absolute Truth of our Lord in LOVE as commanded in the Scriptures. Wow! Now if I can only practice what I preach:) In the glorious grace and undeserved lovingkindness of our marvelous Savior Christ Jesus.

  11. Charisee , I truly agree with what you said. Please do not take this as critical ,but as searching for answers and the practicality to the answer. We must love, for we were loved when we were yet sinners. But what does this love look like? Is it a non-confronting love? Does it mean just waiting for God to act and we do nothing (possibly)? When a child goes to put their hand on a stove do we not yell at them? When a child refuses to listen do we just throw up our hands and say, well they will learn the hard way or do we continue—in love and with love –to warn them? When is the warning enough that we then say nothing more? My point is that we sometimes say we need to love , yet do not define how that love plays itself out in real life. It is easy to say things like peace brother, but much harder to accomplish it. I would love some advise on this. I am an elder at my church and truly, I wrestle with this aspect of my faith. Do the unregernerate not have a reasoning ability and that in not using it, are they not culpable? How much more the believer?

  12. Fred, the unregenerate have absolutely no reasoning ability to understand our salvation. They are culpable because God has seen to it that they have enough of a reasoning ability to know right from wrong. They know they have broken God’s law but they are HIGH-HANDED in their rebellion against Him. Our sin is different because we walk in repentance. That is why I am so confused when I see elders in good churches supporting men who ARE HIGH-HANDED in what they say and write and do. This is indeed troubling. I think we must stand against those who rebel and show the church that they are indeed wolves in sheep’s clothing, but what about those who are simply confused because of their immaturity and lack of discernment and wisdom. I struggle here very much.

  13. Good point Mike. Yes, the unregenerate do have the stamp of God on them, the ability to reason, though they suppress the truth in all manners of unrighteousness. Yet they are guilty for rejecting truth. So in the same way, how much more professing Christians? I agree, we must stand against the high handed leaders.

    But I have an inclination to believe much of the immaturity of leaders stem from being taught rebellion or holding on to a rebellious thinking, a worldly thinking or philosophies. We all do that at times and in ignorance. But we must be able to listen and learn from others and the Word when confronted.

    I take R. Warren for example. I love the attitude of graciousness that Piper extended to him. But Warren has been challenged many times about his views by others. Yet he does not change. Why would not he and others sit down and hammer out, by the Word of God what is truth and come to one accord? To do that Warren, if in ignorance and understanding , may have to say–“I concede even though I do not understand quite fully. Pray for me Brothers”.

    This seems like a proper way to go. It makes more sense than for one side to hide behind a possible piety (love) and not say anything and for the other side to continue in leading in error. If both sides claim truth, then there should be nothing to fear in trying to find a unifying solution—in love. It would seem that love (the love of Christ) would command that this is how we would seek the solutions. The way of ‘hands up in the air acceptance’ by hiding behind terms like love seem like a selfishness of another sort.

    Just thoughts to continue dialog and clear up my thinking.

  14. Very well said Fred. Piper confuses me too. He is so right in his theology and so full of love and graciousness that he takes guys like Driscoll and Warren under his wing when no one else will. However, let us pray that he is wise enough to turn from evil and as God leads. This is dangerous territory for him indeed. I would have preferred for him to turn completely from both of them, but he has not so we must turn up our discernment up full and ask God to show us why. Is Piper for real? What is going on? I agree that Warren is a deceiver, but I never thought Piper would be one who would be one of those deceived. I see none of the conciliatory attitude from Warren in this that you mentioned. He is just a arrogant as ever. His Easter sermon was amazing. He has taken works righteousness to a whole new level. How is this compatible with true Christianity? I am baffled that anyone could even think so.

    In your last paragraph you mentioned further dialogue. I have mentioned debate along these lines in another post. Why not have a debate between Warren and someone like James White on these issues. Man, that would be interesting. I doubt if Warren would even show up. He knows that James White is all about God’s Word and how ministry must line up to it not the other way around while Warren is all about trying to use scripture to justify what he does by taking it out of context and twisting it to make it fit his bad theology or whatever. White would make mincemeat of him and his “theology.” However, so could John Piper if he would actually debate him on these things. So could John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul or dozens of other very good Biblically based theologians bound to God’s Word as His Truth. Warren would not last long in a debate with any of them if they would remain true to their calling and to God’s Word as the truth. That is the point. Warren gets by because no one of that caliber will stand up to him.

  15. Bingo (if I can say that -LOL). When I look at the first Jerusalem Council, the Nicene council etc, the point was to hammer out truth so that we could stay as close to orthodoxy as we could (they came to one accord), all the while knowing that the great deceiver would always be assauting this truth. The Reformation did that too in the Creeds etc. It is in America, where we idolize individual freedom, that we have become so diverse that we have to hide behind words like tolerance and love to exist in some type of vaguitous harmony.

    I am a James White fanatic . I listen to the Dividing Line twice a week and have bought many of his debates. I truly think this is what we need to do in the church—especially in ones that supposedly hold to Reformation principles. I believe that our theology is messed up because so many, and I repeat myself, have accepted the world’s philosophies (sociology, business, pragmatism, pluralism etc)at their root and have only Christianized them so that this philosophy seems spiritual and Christian. I think they believe the truth as far as how we are saved, but when it comes to application of that truth, then they want the cake and eat it too. They are thinking out of a worldly paradigm mixed with a Christian paradigm–a synthesis made possible by the Hegelian Dialectic process, which is a name given to Satans process of deceptive sin.

    Yoiur point resonates with me. I think so many things are being written about, said and practiced in church today that is a result of faithful men not being faithful to standing firm and using their authority in Christ to rebuke error before it becomes heresy. Sometimews I think we fear man more than God.

  16. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for this! You are so right in saying when we are regenerated we are new creatures! We will want to learn and know what is pleasing to God and will detest the sin contaminating our lives. It will be like a gradual upward climb with many falls and stumblings, but our walk with Christ will not continually stay the same or go downward. Our desires are to find out what pleases Him, resist sin in our lives and obey Him, although we do all of this very imperfectly. Amen!
    God bless you and thanks for this encouraging article!

  17. Dear Fred,
    You are so right that it is difficult to discern when to say something and when to let an offense go. I have written about certain issues on Pastor Cardwell’s blog @ Justification by Grace, that the Lord has burdened my heart with.
    Pray to the Lord James 1:5 for wisdom and discernment and He does give generously without reproach. In Christ Alone, Charisse

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