“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order 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)
Throughout this letter of John there is a tension. On the one hand, he is urging his readers not to sin. Sin is a lawlessness which separates us from God. It is because of this sin-created separation that Jesus had to come. It was the punishment for this sin which nailed him to the cross. Those who keep on sinning, the Apostle John asserts, have no knowledge of God.
On the other hand, at the beginning go his letter John writes “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). So we mustn’t sin, but if we say that we don’t sin we deceive ourselves! Which is it?! Sin or nor?
The key to unlocking this paradox is in the phrase “practice of sinning”. There is a world of difference between doing something which you know to be wrong, and then experiencing guilt, and saying it wasn’t wrong at all! In the heart of a Christian there is a sorrow over sins committed, and a joy in knowing that such sins are forgiven. The child of God desires to live a godly life. The issue is the one who sees nothing wrong in practicing “lawlessness”, and so carries on regardless.
This is an important point, so let me just dwell here a little longer. Perfection is not possible this side of heaven, and we must acknowledge that we mess up from time to time. When it happens, our response should not be to think we are not Christian - or worthy of God’s love - but to pray for forgiveness, and be determined not to fall again. This is “living in the light” and not “living in darkness”. We might stray into shadow,, but we mustn’t remain there.