Misunderstood Bible Terminology
In this message we’ll take a close look at some Bible terminology that can easily be misunderstood if not read through the perspective of the New Covenant. Many of these verses, especially from the epistles of the apostle John, have been used as a whip to beat the church back into obeying the Old Covenant Law. A good understanding of Grace and Righteousness would go a long way into clearing up the fog surrounding these topics of discussion, such as the terms “fellowship”, “practicing truth”, “committing sin or lawlessness”, etc. Undivided attention and prolonged concentration is strongly recommended for this one.
It is commonly believed that whenever a believer messes up in regards to their moral behaviour, that they fall out of fellowship with God and that they need to confess their sins in order to restore such “fellowship”. However when viewed from this perspective the term “fellowship” (better known as “fellowshipping with God” in Pentecostal circles) would then refer to a feeling of intimacy that comes and goes depending on our ability to perform at our best. This is not what scripture has to say, in fact not even once in the entire New Testament is the word “fellowship” described in this manner, specifically when it pertains to our relationship with God. The term “fellowshipping with God” is not even used once in the entire Bible. It is a phrase that has been conjured up by people to refer to their own quiet time with God and through the last few decades it has been twisted by legalists to make believers feel guilty and stand accused of being “out of fellowship” with God if they didn’t allocate a certain amount of time per week to prayer and Bible study. On the contrary, here are a few examples of how the word “fellowship” has been used in Biblical terms:
[2 Cor 6:14b ...For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?] Take note how these opposing entities are contrasted with each other: righteousness vs. lawlessness, light vs. darkness, Christ (anointed) vs. Belial (worthless) & believer vs. unbeliever. It says that such opposites can not have fellowship with one another, meaning they are not compatible. Just as Christ can not have fellowship with Belial, in the same way a believer is not to be considered by the same measure as an unbeliever. If a person is therefore out of fellowship with Christ it means that they have not been born again and they fall under the same category as darkness, Belial, and lawlessness in the above verse.
[1 Cor 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord]. We were called into the fellowship and therefore when we put our faith in Christ we are now in the fellowship.
[1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth]. This verse makes it abundantly clear that the apostle John is talking about our position in Christ, not our behaviour. We can not say that we have fellowship with God (in other words that we have been born again) if we walk in darkness (which means we have not actually been born again), because then we would be lying. In simple English: You cannot say you are a Christian if you have not been born again!!
Practicing Truth or Righteousness / Walking in Darkness
Now of course the pessimist or legalist would say, “Yes but what about the parts in the previous verse that says “WALK in darkness” and “PRACTICE the truth?” The answer is simple: once again this is not referring to our own works of righteousness, in fact it has nothing to do with our behaviour. The terminology used by the apostle John for being born again is to “practice righteousness” or “practice truth” or “walk in the light” (we will deal with “walking in the light” in the next chapter). [1 John 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him].
In contrast, when John talks about those who “commit sin” or who “practice lawlessness” or “walk in darkness” he is referring to the unsaved. This principle stays consistent throughout all 3 of John’s epistles. Predominantly however these verses have been read through a legalistic point of view, causing much perplexity in the body of Christ.
Committing Sin or Lawlessness
Another shining example is 1 John 3:4-9: [1 John 3:4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin]. Once again John is referring to the unsaved here. Whenever the New Testament refers to those who “commit sin” or “practice lawlessness” it does not have the same meaning as under the Old Testament when people were still judged according to the Law. The only sin in the New Testament is not believing in Jesus. (Read the article “The Unforgivable Sin” at our website in “Message Archive” page).
Verse 5 depicts God’s answer to mankind’s problem of sin – He took our sin away and placed us in Christ where we now are completely forgiven and seen as though we’ve never even committed a single sin! Read verse 5 again in this context. Is the light beginning to go on yet?
[1 John 3:6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him]. This verse mentions another “buzz” concept, namely to “abide” in Him. It’s really very simple to prove that this also refers to being saved and not to our own efforts to maintain a good standing with God. Simply do searches for the word “abide(s)” on any Bible software program and study the results.
Verse 6 further says that whoever sins has not seen God or does not know God, which implies not having a relationship with Him. Many (if not all) sincere Christians who have had an intimate relationship with God for decades still make mistakes every day of their lives despite their best efforts. If this verse meant that they are disqualified from their relationship with God if they sin even once (because it doesn’t say “sin a hundred times” or “sin four times per day”), this would amount to nobody on the entire planet being able to maintain a stable relationship with God. Clearly therefore this is not the context of this verse. Let’s look at the subsequent 3 verses (comments added in brackets):
[1 John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness (which means to be saved) is righteous, just as He (God) is righteous. 8 He who sins (an unbeliever) is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God (a believer) does not sin, for His (God’s) seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God]. The key here is verse 9. How is it possible that a believer can not sin if we’re all too aware of how many mistakes we make? Simply because John is not talking about our behaviour! He is still using the same terminology to differentiate between being saved or not. Read verses 7 – 9 again and let it sink in. In verse 8, if John meant that anybody who commits an act of sin is of the devil, it would imply that all Christians are of the devil. Clearly this is not what he meant.
There are 3 main reasons why Christians can not be called “sinners” anymore, the first being because they are no longer under the Old Covenant Law. And since there is no more Law to break (and sin is defined as breaking the Law) consequently their mistakes can no longer be called “sinning”. [Rom 4:15b ... And where there is no law there is no transgression].
Secondly everybody on the planet person is either a sinner or a saint. Not once in the entire Bible mention is made of a “neutral” position somewhere in the middle. We either have God as our Father, or the devil.
Thirdly the born again spirit of a Christian is 100% righteous and will remain 100% righteous for all of eternity in spite of less than perfect behaviour during his / her remaining time on the earth. If this were not the case, then there would be no other way to explain the following “contradicting” verses:
[1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives].
Now compare these 3 verses against the following “seemingly” conflicting verse:
[1 John 3:9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God].
The only explanation is that in the first 3 verses, even though John used the word “we”, he was in fact not referring to believers, but to unbelievers. As a shepherd and a preacher he was identifying with the lost in an open display of God’s love, saying “We have all sinned, we all need to repent”. Instead of bashing and ridiculing the unbelievers openly, he was tactfully saying something along the lines of this: “(v8) If any person claims to be without sin, they are deceived and the truth (Christ) does not live inside them (because Christ said “I am the TRUTH, the way and the life). (v9) But if such a person (a sinner) acknowledges they are sinful and in need of a saviour, God who is faithful will forgive them ALL of their sins and wash them clean of ALL unrighteousness (implying that they are now clean forever). (v10) However if any person claims they have never sinned, they make God into a liar and willingly reject the truth of His word.” Take these 3 verses and compare them verse by verse to the actual verses above.
Think about it this way: What does a person have to do to be born again? They have to confess they are a sinner, admit that they need a saviour and put their faith in Christ (Rom 10:9-10). Therefore if any person claims to be without sin before putting their faith in Christ, they are deceived and blinded to the truth. This is the heresy that John was countering in this epistle. (For a more elaborate explanation on 1 John 1:9, please read our previous message “Should Christians Confess Their Sins to God?” on the “Message Archive” page of our website).
In our next message we will continue destroying these religious doctrines that have crippled the church for too long. We will look at what Jesus had to say about those who “practice lawlessness” in Matt 7:23 as well as take a look at what the apostle John meant when he talked about “obeying commandments” in 1 John 2 and 3.
Andre van der Merwe
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