I am a firm believer in the idea that church life, Christian life, should be characterized by what the Bible calls “fellowship.” Biblical fellowship is not just getting together and having a good time, a “sanctified” version of “party.” Christian fellowship is community centered around the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. One of the ways that we have attempted to engage in Christian fellowship is through One-to-One Bible studies.
It is an amazing thing when two believers are confronted with a Text and wrestle with three questions: What strikes you? What questions does the passage raise? How does this apply to me right now? Discussion over each perspective to those questions avoids the goofiness of “what does it mean to you?” and focuses on what the author intended it to mean and then anticipates that it will affect each Christian in some way. We do this weekly through whole books of the Bible. Currently, I’m doing three on Mark, 1 John and James.
Practice makes Perfect
Every now and then, during the middle of discussing the written answers we have to those questions, something really snaps into place. This happened to me recently when one of the men at our church and I were going through 1 John 2:28-3:10.
The problem in the passage is that John makes reference many times to those who “practice” sin or who “practice” righteousness. He ties those qualities to those who those who are “lawless” or those who are “born in Him.” Also, the passage talks about those who “keep on” sinning as being those who do not abide in Him or even know Him. The one who has been born of God “does not keep on sinning.”
What are we to do with this since John recognizes previously that “if we say we have no sin, we are liars and the truth is not in us”? (1 John 1:8-9) Further, he says that “if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
Now, I do not usually go into the Greek in a One-to-One, but this word bothered me because I sin. In fact, I do the same sins more than once. Yes, I know. It’s hard to believe, but I do. (Actually, it’s not that hard to believe at all…wait a few minutes.)
However, there is an assumption of John in his letter that Christians sin. There is an assumption in the entire New Testament that Christians will fight their sin. (Romans 7:14-25).
Words have meaning
The key to understanding what this means, I believe, is in the use of the word “practice,” and it may be why the translators of the ESV use that word to get this across. The lexicons show that the Greek word there in the verse means “a continuous habit” and is related to the use of another word that means “to practice,” “to accomplish,” or “to perform.”
When I practice piano, I am trying to get better at it. I love to play and want to be more accomplished. To “practice sinning,” it seems to me, does not mean that the struggle against a habitual sin identifies you as one “out of the kingdom.” However, refusing to fight the rebellion in our hearts and continuing to get better at hiding it so we can keep on doing sinful acts seems to better fit the idea.
Likewise, “practices righteousness” does not imply a perfect execution of righteous acts all the time. It means a striving to get better at looking like Christ, a similar idea to striving to get better at a musical instrument or a faster running time.
For those of us who struggle with the assurance of salvation (not because the Text is unclear, but because sin messes with your head), John’s word here is helpful and a comfort. But, it is also a warning.
We cannot coast. If I stop practicing music because I love something else, then my heart is then practicing something else that I love more. If I am not practicing looking like Christ, well then, you get the picture. (Ex. 20:3-5)
To practice something contrary to the obedience of Christ is to make that thing a god. We do what we love. We practice what we love. We reveal our hearts by what we practice.