How Do the Born Again Deal with Their Sin?
Now we come to the question we raised at the beginning: How do people who have experienced the miracle of the new birth deal with their own sinfulness as they try to live in the full assurance of their salvation? My answer is: You deal with it by the way you use John’s teaching. John warns against hypocrisy (claiming to be born again when your life contradicts it), and John celebrates the Advocacy and Propitiation of Christ for sinners.
The question is: How do you use these two truths? How do you use the warning that you might deceive yourself? How do you use the promise, “If we do sin, we have an Advocate”? The evidence of your new birth lies in how these to truths function in your life.
Here’s the way they function if you are born again:
1) Fleeing Presumption, Flying to the Advocate
You are slipping into a lukewarm, careless, presumptuous frame of mind about your own sinfulness. You are starting to coast or be indifferent to whether you are holy or worldly. You are losing your vigilance against bad attitudes and behaviors—and starting to settle in with sinful patterns of behavior.
When the born-again person experiences this, the truth of 1 John 3:9 (“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning”) has the effect, by the Holy Spirit, of awakening him to the danger of his condition so that he flies to his Advocate and his Propitiation for mercy and forgiveness and righteousness. He confesses his sin and receives cleansing (1:9), and his love for Christ is renewed and the sweetness of his relationship is recovered and the hatred of sin is restored and the joy of the Lord again becomes his strength.
2) Fleeing Despair, Flying to the Advocate
You are sinking down in fear and discouragement and even despair that your righteousness, your love for people, and your fight against sin are just not good enough. Your conscience is condemning you, and your own deeds seem so imperfect to you that they could never prove that you are born again.
When the born-again person experiences this, the truth of 1 John 2:1 has the effect, by the Spirit, of rescuing him from despair: “My little children [he wants to be tender with their consciences], I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
John’s warning of hypocrisy calls you back from the precipice of presumption. John’s promise of an Advocate calls you back from the precipice of despair.
The Redemptive Power of God’s Word
New birth enables you to hear Scripture and use Scripture helpfully, redemptively. New birth doesn’t use the promise “We have an Advocate” to justify an attitude of cavalier indifference to sin.
New birth doesn’t’ use the warning “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” to pour gasoline on the fires of despair. New birth has a spiritual discernment that senses how to use John’s teaching: The new birth is chastened and sobered by the warnings, and the new birth is thrilled and empowered by the promise of an Advocate and a Propitiation.
May the Lord confirm your new birth by both of these responses to the word of God. May he grant you to embrace both the warning and the comfort and put them to proper spiritual use in preserving the full assurance of your salvation.