The Practice Of Righteousness
Tim Temple


Open your Bibles to I John, chapter 3, as we continue to study this letter that John wrote to the Christians of the first century. The history of government is the history of revolution. Many of the nations that have ruled the world have had their beginnings in revolution. Many of the men who came to prominence as world rulers and world leaders had their background in revolution, and that continues to be true right down to this very day. When we think of revolution, we tend to think of the many Communist revolutions that have taken place around the world in the past seventy-five or hundred years, particularly that in Russia and Eastern Europe that took place seventy or so years ago and all of the devastation and turmoil that came with those revolutions. Generally, that is how we think of revolution.

On the other hand, when we think about our own nation and we think about it thoroughly enough, we realize that our own nation which we revere and treasure and thank God for, had its roots in revolution also. So revolution is not inherently a bad thing and there are many revolutions on a smaller level, even on a personal level, that can be bad or can be good depending on the context.

I want to suggest to you that the greatest revolutionary that ever lived and the greatest revolution that ever took place was the revolution that Jesus Christ, the great revolutionary, brought about. II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 17, says:

II Corinthians 5:

17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Jesus Christ came to bring revolution—not a political revolution, not a social revolution, not a revolution of people against their historical moorings, but a revolution at the level of the heart. Jesus Christ came to change the lives of men and women, the hearts of men and women who were estranged from God, and to bring about the opportunity, the possibility, the reality of having new life through what He did. So today we want to think about this revolutionary truth that is brought out in the first three verses—the fact that we are sons of God.

The chapter falls into three parts. First, verses 1-3 tell us about our position as sons of God. John says, “Behold, what a strange and foreign kind of love that God has bestowed on us that we should be called sons of God.” He said, “And such we are, we sinful, finite, failing human beings who have sinned and come short of the glory of God, who had no hope of even a relationship with God, who have now been placed into His family as sons of God.”

We talked about those verses in some detail a couple of weeks ago. The second section of the chapter is in verses 4-9, which talks about the practices of the sons of God. We have been working our way through those verses and we are going to continue to do that today. Verses 10-24 are going to give us the principles guiding sons of God. We will talk about those in a week or two.


Today we want to continue thinking about the practices of the sons of God. Last week we talked about this massive problem that human beings have, this massive problem that faces our world. We see it all around us, and it is brought out in verse 4:

I John 3:

4Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

The problem that the human race faces is the problem of lawlessness. Down through the years humans have tried to address that problem of lawlessness. Revolutionaries have tried to address that problem of lawlessness, and we have discovered the hard way—through trial and error and bitter experiences—that the problem in the world today is not just the problem of the class struggle. It is not just the problem of racial inequality. It is not the problem of economic inequity,all of those things the revolutionaries have tried to address. The problem is the problem with the heart, and that is that men and women are lawless. We talked about that definition of lawlessness, which John brings out there in verse 4. What is lawlessness? It is sin. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

It is important to remember that that lawlessness is not just the “Bonnie and Clyde” type of lawlessness. It is not just that person who breaks out of jail and goes on the lam and shoots it out with the police or that kind of lawlessness that overthrows governments. When we look at God's definition of lawlessness, we see that it is sin. It is that attitude of heart that says, “I will do what I want to do whether anybody else says I can do it or not; whether God even says I can do it or not, I am going to do what I want to do.”

Very few people stand up and audibly say it that way because it is an attitude of the heart. Whether we say it or not, the result is the same if there is that attitude that I am in charge, I will do what I want to do. Even a person who is lawless in that definition of the word very rarely does everything that is against the law. Usually it is in some particular area of life that comes up in a crisis moment and we may even remember what God has said to do about such a crisis, but our thought is, “I am going to do it my way.” We remember, perhaps, what God's standard would be, and we say it in whatever way we say it: “That doesn't matter. I am going to do it my way.”

Sometimes that takes the form of saying, “Well, the law doesn't apply to me. That instruction from God, that rule, that law, whatever form it may take, I just don't need to obey that because I am in this special circumstance and special situation. The problem I am having right now warrants my doing it my way, and I am not going to bother doing it the way the laws of man say to do it or the way God's Word says to do it.” Lawlessness. The Scripture says that the magnitude of that problem is that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” So to use John's definition of lawlessness, every one of us, according to Romans, chapter 3, verse 23, is lawless. We have that tendency and that ability to take matters into our own hands and to do what we want to do, regardless of what God or human authorities may have to say about it.

The Defeat Of Lawlessness

The problem is, since there is this problem that is at the root of all the other ills that our world suffers, what do we do about it? If it is something that even we who are respectable people participate in, what is the solution?

The defeat of lawlessness is given to us in verses 5-6. We began talking about those verses last week, but I want us to continue talking about them today. The source of the defeat is in verse 5:

I John 3:

5And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.

He is talking about Jesus Christ when he says “that He was manifested. In Him there is no sin.” Jesus Christ is the source of the defeat of lawlessness. The reason for that, as we talked about last week, is that in Him, there is no sin. If we are going to have someone who can stem the tide of sin in our lives, if we are going to have someone who can stem the flow of sin in our society, it needs to be somebody who doesn't have the problem himself. Part of our problem is that we are sinners, so we can't help anybody else stop sinning because we can't stop sinning ourselves. But John says, by way of reminder, “In Him there is no sin.” He can solve the problem because He is not one of us. He can solve the problem of sin because He is not a sinner. And he says, “Not only that, He was manifested for this very purpose. That is why He came. He came to take away our sins, to take away that lawlessness.” That is the source of the defeat of lawlessness.

If you are not familiar with the Word of God, if you are hearing this kind of thing for the very first time, that may seem like a gross oversimplification. How can we make a statement so far-reaching as that to say that Jesus Christ is the solution to the ills and the troubles and the problems of mankind? Well, we can't make a statement like that, but God does. That is exactly what He is saying in these verses. He was manifested to take away sin. He was manifested to take away lawlessness. Jesus Christ came into the world to give us the power to say no to sin in our own lives. Jesus Christ was manifested to give us the ability to say, “I will do it God's way. I will do it the authorities way. I can have victory over lawlessness.”

The Secret Of Defeat

We want to talk today about the secret of defeat. Everything I have said up to now has been review, but in verse 6, He talks about the secret of the defeat of lawlessness. He says in verse 6:

I John 3:

6Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Any time we read verse 6 or the several other verses that are like it in the Bible, and most of them are here in I John, we almost always have someone who raises a red flag. In the minds of some, there will be this question that you may not say audibly, but you are thinking it: “Wait a minute. He who abides in Him does not sin? Do you mean it is possible to be sinlessly perfect?” Someone who knows a little bit more about the Scripture will even say, “Wait just a minute. Here is a contradiction in the Word of God because chapter 1, verse 8, says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. First John says that nobody can say that he has no sin. We deceive ourselves if we say that. If you look down in verse 10 it says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us.” So in one chapter, John says nobody can say that he is without sin, and two chapters later he says that it is possible to not sin. What is the problem here?

Let me assure you that John was no dummy. He was not stupid enough to contradict himself within two pages, but much more importantly than that, John was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and so it is no accident that John seems to say in one place that we all have sinned, and if we say that we don't sin, we deceive ourselves, and in another place he says that he who abides in Him does not sin.” The immediate solution to the problem is to understand that the verb sin in verse 6 is written in a tense in the Greek that is the present tense. In the present tense in the Greek, there is a continuous action, and so we could translate this, “Whoever abides in Him does not keep on sinning,” or “whoever abides in Him does not continually sin.” It is written that way in the Greek, and I have to admit that I don't know why. As far as I know, none of the newer translations translate it that way, and yet it is a basic point of Greek grammar. You will just have to take that up with the people who translate the newer translations. I don't have to defend it because I didn't translate it that way. They have never asked me to be on their committee. It says, “Whoever abides in Him does not keep on sinning. Whoever abides in Him does not continually commit sin.”

That is very important for us to understand because if John had wanted to say, as it seems he is saying in the way it is translated in the English, “He who abides in Him will not ever commit another sin,” there is a tense in the Greek with which he could have written it that would have said that whosoever abides in Him will never sin again, but he did not choose to write it in that tense. He wrote it in the continuous tense. So what this is saying is that though there may be an occasional sin, God does not make us robots when He saves us. He just doesn't take away our ability to sin. The reason He doesn't, I think, is that He created us in the first place with the ability to sin. God could have created us in the first place as robots who could not sin who wouldn't have had the sin problem, but the reason He didn't do that and that He gave us the ability to sin—the ability to say no to Him—is that when we say no to Him, it has some meaning. If all we could do was say yes to Him, what meaning would there be in that? He created us so that we could say no so that He could be blessed when we say yes, so that it would thrill His heart when we say yes. When we say yes to Him, we can have fellowship with Him because we can say no. Even after we are saved, we still have that ability, but now that ability to say yes to Him, that ability to say no to sin, is strengthened in a certain way.

That is the major point in verse 6. It is easy for us to get sidetracked on this seeming contradiction, and it is important that we understand that, but really that seeming contradiction is not the major point of the verse. The major point of the verse is: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin.”

How can we come to that place that we don't continually sin? How can we come to that place that we have victory over sin so that sin becomes at best an occasional thing that we are still prey to and may slip into, but that our experience can be on the whole not sinning? How do we get there? In verse 6:

I John 3:

6Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

This subject of abiding was introduced to us back in chapter 2, verse 24. Look at that verse again:

I John 2:

24Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.

We talked about that “which abides in you,” in its context. That was the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, the presence of God living in us. He said, “I have put My Spirit within you. I have come to dwell within you. Now, let Me abide in you.” Because that doesn't seem to make much sense, we talked about this word abide in some detail, and without going into all of those details again, let me remind you that this word abide means “to be at home.” It is a Greek word that if it was literally translated would be “to be at home.” The English word abide carries that meaning if we think about it in the right context. To be at home. God says there in verse 24, “I am indwelling you. Now let Me be at home here.” We all know the difference between being in a house and being at home there. It is very important since God is within us that we provide the kind of heart in which He can live and not just be there, but be comfortable there, be at home there, be at ease there, be able to relax there.

Let me ask you again as I did a week or two ago as we talked about that verse: “Can God relax in the places where you take Him? Can God relax with the kind of people you expose Him to? Can God be at home with the kind of thoughts that you think? Can God be at home the way you spend your time that you don't have to account to anybody for? That is the concept of abiding.

Coming over to verse 6—in chapter 2, verse 24, he is talking about Christ's being at home in us—he says, “Whoever is at home in Him does not sin.” Whoever abides in Him does not keep on sinning. Abide means “to be at home.” He wants to be at home in us, but are we at home with Him? Are we comfortable with Him? Someone says, “I know the principles that God wants me to live by and the things He tells me not to do and the things He tells me to do. I understand that. I know those things. I guess I am abiding in Him.”

I am afraid that many of us as Christians are like the story I heard years ago about a missionary who was ministering to tribes in the deep jungle and the missionaries were supported and supplied by missionary pilots who would fly supplies into them. A lot of time that airplane would be an open door to reach the natives who were fascinated by that plane. So this missionary in the jungles of Brazil had been able to bring the chief of the tribe to know the Lord. The tribal chief had accepted Christ as his Savior and the missionary thought that if he could get the chief to fly in the airplane with the missionary pilot, it would give the people more confidence in the airplane and the Christianity that the chief was espousing. He talked the chief into it, but the chief was very reticent. You can imagine if you had never seen an airplane until just the last year or two and you had never even traveled by car. The chief very reluctantly and very nervously finally agreed to go for an airplane flight. The chief climbed into the back seat of that little plane and it took off and made just one big circle around the clearing where the village was and came back to land again. The missionary ran out to greet the chief as he got out of the plane and he said, “Well chief, how was it?” The chief said, “Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I never put my full weight down.”

There are many Christians who understand the concepts of God's Word, who understand the principles that God wants us to live by, but really never put their full weight down. We are not really confident that God will do what He says He will do if we trust Him and claim His promises and live the way He wants us to live. We are never quite sure that He really will take care of us and really will meet our needs as He has promised to do if we completely let go and let Him be God. We don't put our full weight down. Putting our full weight down is abiding in Him, believing fully that He is going to do what He says He will do whether we can understand it or not.

There is a beautiful illustration of this in the Old Testament. Remember the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Remember how they got ready to go into the land after all of those years of promises and they came to this river that they could not get across and God said, “The priests are going to take the Ark of the Covenant and they are going to lead you. When the priests walk into the water, the water will roll back and you will be able to go across on dry land.” They had done that forty years before, going across the Red Sea into the wilderness getting out of Egypt. The significant thing is that the waters didn't roll back until the priests stepped into the water, but as they stepped into the water, the waters rolled back. John, chapter 15, verse 10, says:

John 15:

10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

What does it mean to abide in Christ? It means to obey Him. Someone has said it this way: Obeying is abiding. Someone says, “Yes, but some of those things God tells me to do are just impossible to do, and I don't know that I can do some of those things really in a crunch.” Think about those Israelites. The Jordan River was cold and it was muddy and it was deep and it was wide. It was at flood stage. God said, “Walk out into the river, and I will roll back the waters.” The Old Testament doesn't talk about abiding, but in the New Testament terms, those priests were abiding in Christ when they did what God told them to do, even if they could not imagine how that would work. Even if there was no human way it could ever happen, they walked into the water simply because God told them to do it. They were abiding in Christ, and God was true to His promises. He rolled the waters back.

Most of us don't literally face rivers that we have to cross, but there are some issues in life that God speaks to that would seem just as difficult. For example, in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 44, Jesus talked about something that I think every one of us would find impossible to do. He said, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.” How do you do that? How do you love your enemies? How do you care enough about somebody who is persecuting you and despitefully using you to pray for them? John records Jesus as saying, in John, chapter 15, verse 10:

John 15:

10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

Do you know what it means? It means that when you face that situation, as all of us sooner or later will do, when we have to deal with an enemy, when we have to love an enemy, we have to decide am I going to do what Jesus said or am I not. Let me tell you, if you will step into the river, you will discover God will give you the ability to love that enemy because that is what He told us to do. If we obey Him, we will find ourselves abiding in Him; and if we abide in Him, we will not have the sin problem. It is no harder to love an enemy, to take the steps in the direction of loving the enemy than it was for those priests to step into that cold, muddy, deep water that day in answer to God's command.

Another huge problem that is plaguing our nation, and it affects many more people than I think many of you would ever realize, is the problem of lust and illicit sex and pornography. There is such a huge problem with it and God says, “Flee youthful lusts.” There are many men who hear that kind of instruction from God and even some women hear that kind of instruction from God and they say, “That is impossible. I have tried and I have tried, and I can't stop this. It has conquered me and I can't do it.” God says, “If you abide in Me, you can have victory over sin.” God says, “Flee youthful lusts.” That means take God at His Word. Believe that you can turn from it, and whether you believe you can turn from it or not, start turning from it. There are some physical things to do to turn from it. One of them is as simple as literally turning your head and not looking at it and other things that have to do with that kind of thing. Do what God said to do. Flee that lust. Turn from it. Run from it, and if you will do that by faith, you will discover that God gives you the victory. The most amazing thing is that it is not just the drudgerous kind of victory that any unsaved person can do, that of gritting their teeth and clamping their jaw and saying, “I will get victory over this thing. I will get victory over this thing.” There are some very effective programs that have gotten people through addictions and thank God for that, but God says, “If you will obey Me, I will give you the strength to overcome sin.”

Thank God for the twelve-step programs. Some of those things may be helpful, but God says, “You don't have to go through that drudgery of going cold turkey and gripping all of your strength together and have victory over this thing. If you will obey me, if you will abide in Me, I will give you the victory.” I can tell you from the experience I have had in putting this principle into effect in my own life in several different areas, in trying to obey God in things that look impossible, there is a sweet joy and peace and sense of His presence that fills us as we, out of love for Him, out of obedience to Him, even though it looks impossible, do what He told us to do, there comes a sense of abiding in Him. That is the secret of the defeat of lawlessness.

One last thing I want to mention by way of conclusion. The conclusion to the passage is in verse 7:

I John 3:

7Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

Satan is the great deceiver, and Satan has people who will try to deceive us about this matter of righteousness. There are those who say in so many words, “All you have to do to be what God wants is to look righteous. Just put on a show. Talk about those things and try to look outwardly like you are doing those things, but inwardly you can really do whatever you want to do.” John says, “Let no man deceive you.” Look at the last line of the verse: “He who does righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”

That word he in verse 7 is another instance when I don't know why it was translated this way. John literally writes in verse 7: “He who practices righteousness is righteous just as that one is righteous.” It is almost as if as John is writing this to us, and he says, “He who practices righteousness is righteous just as that One,” as if he was pointing to Jesus. Jesus is righteous, and Jesus indwells us as we saw in chapter 2. Jesus is righteous, and the only source of our righteousness is His righteousness within us. That is where the strength to obey Him comes from. That is where the source of abiding in Him comes from. John says, “Don't let anybody deceive you. This isn't just a matter of acting like we are obeying. It is not just a matter of playing church—going through the motions. It is a matter of realizing that He Who is righteous lives within us, and if we allow Him to be at home in us and if we are at home with Him, if we are abiding with Him and letting Him abide in us, that righteousness sooner or later is going to break forth out of us.” That is where righteousness comes from. It comes from within. He who is righteous, He who lives in a way that pleases God, He who does those righteous things is doing that because He Who is within Him is righteous.


I have asked you this before, but I want to ask you again as we conclude. Is He within you? Do you know Jesus Christ as Savior? II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 17 says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Is Christ in you? Are you in Christ? If you have never trusted Him as Savior, you can do that right where you are. It is a matter of opening your heart to Him and saying, “Yes, I believe that You died in my place.” He is knocking on your door, and He wants to come in Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20, tells us.

Let me ask you this second question. If you are in Him, if you have trusted Him as your Savior, are you abiding in Him? Are you doing what He says to do, even though you think it won't work, it goes contrary to all of human experience. Others have tried it, and it didn't seem to work for them, but what about you? Are you abiding in Him? To obey is to abide. “If you do my commandments,” Jesus said. Another place He said, “My commandments aren't grievous. My burden is light. I came that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly. I didn't come to suppress you. I didn't come to hold you back. I didn't come to give you an unfulfilling life. Just the opposite. If you will keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” John says, “If you abide in Him, you will have victory over that lawlessness, that sin that plagues us and keeps us from that life that He wants us to have.”

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