Teaching Point Three: Do what’s right.
Once again John leaves the subject of lifestyle, and then comes back to it again later with a
vengeance! Let’s follow John as he drills down a third time and then try to pull it all together.
Read 1 John 3:7–10.
John is drawing some pretty stark lines in this letter. You’re either in the light, or you’re in the
dark. You’re either living the truth or living a lie. You’re either a child of God or a child of Satan.
And at least one of the tests, John says, is ethical; it’s how you live each day.
- [Q] How does the fact that the one “who does what is right is righteous” (v. 7) fit in with the fact that we are saved by grace and not works (Eph. 2:8–9)?
- [Q] John isn’t saying that a real Christian never sins. He says he cannot go on sinning. Can you give an example of the difference?
He’s talking about habitual behavior, not occasional lapses. But he is expecting progress. As we go on with God, as we go deeper in our faith, it will show up not only in our belief, but also in our behavior. We won’t just bask in his presence in morning devotions; we’ll do the right thing at work that afternoon.
Optional Activity: Try a simple drawing to diagram a person’s spiritual journey. Drawa horizontal line across the page. On one end write, “No God.” A person on this end has nofaith at all. On the other end we might write, “Know God.” This person has a fully-formedfaith and a personal relationship with God. We imagine a person making progress along thisline, moving from one end to the other. At a certain point they come to believe in God,maybe, but they’re still not sure about Jesus. Eventually they come to a decision point, herein the center, and they accept Christ as their Savior and Lord. We sometimes call that“crossing the line.” At that point, we generally consider that person a Christian. But they stillhave a long way to go, don’t they? They have a lot to learn about God and his ways. So theycontinue to grow in their faith—studying the Bible, worshiping every Sunday, etc. It’s primarily a doctrinal journey. When we talk about “going deeper,” we’re usually thinking ofmoving along this continuum, toward knowing God.
But according to John, we have to draw another line, this one going up and down. If the horizontal line is the doctrinal axis, then this vertical one is the ethical axis. At the bottom put the word “Sinful,” and at the top put the word “Holy.” A person at the bottom of the line continuously breaks God’s laws and does whatever he or she chooses. A person at the top of the line is fully conformed to the image of Christ. In the same way a person needs to travel across the doctrinal axis—growing in her knowledge of God and his Word—she also need to be traveling up the ethical axis—becoming more like Christ in her character and conduct.
Now, according to John’s way of thinking, where on that grid would you find a real Christian? Here, in the upper right quadrant, right? They’ve come to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord, and they have begun to resemble Christ in their character and conduct. Where would you certainly find a non-Christian on this grid? Down here, in the lower left quadrant, right? Neither their belief nor their behavior gives any indication they are Christians. But now what would you say about people in these other two quadrants? Is a person a real Christian if they live like a Christian is supposed to live, but haven’t accepted Christ as Savior? We would probably say no, or at least put a question mark. How about a person who claims to believe in Christ, but his behavior gives no indication that he is actually following Christ? If we’re going to be consistent, we probably need to put a question mark in that case, too.
According to John, a real Christian is located somewhere in this quadrant. It doesn’t matter
where in the quadrant, exactly. What’s more important than where they are is the direction they are moving in. Real Christians are moving up and to the right. Going deeper doesn’t just mean knowing more about Christ; it’s becoming more like Christ.
A couple of cautions about this diagram: First, only God knows where a person is on this grid. You cannot capture the mystery of salvation through a simple drawing. Only God knows when a person crosses the line of belief or behavior. It may not always be evident to us. Second, this test is meant to be used to evaluate yourself, not others. John didn’t write this letter so his readers could point fingers and pass judgment on others. He wrote it so they would know whether or not they were really a Christian, and how they could experience a deeper walk with Christ. And that’s John’s big idea for this week: You know you’re living deep when your belief and your behavior are taking you closer to Christ.
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