This week we take a look at sin and how God dealt with it. Just as in John's day when he wrote this letter, there abounds many false teachings concerning sin and overcoming sin. A major chafe is the matter of our "relationship" with Jesus. In Sunday's lesson the Quarterly correctly states that "The new birth is His [God's] work, not ours," but then throws the truth into a tailspin by stating that "we do not need to worry about our status as children of God as long as we maintain our relationship with Him." This shift places all the weight of the burden upon my shoulders, and legalism or antinomianism is often the result as I being to depend upon myself to meet the requirements of God.
Two points to consider here. Number one: as God's creatures, we always have a relationship to Him, no matter what, whether we're sinners or overcomers. Even Satan and his fallen angels have a "relationship" with God. Granted, it isn't a very good one, but they nonetheless have a "relationship" with their Creator. Point two: Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30). This is an appropriate metaphor. The ox yoke is purposely made with one bow larger than the other, and farmer puts his strongest ox on the side that will bear the heaviest weight. The weaker ox goes into the small bow, and his burden is lighter because his stronger brother is pulling more of the load. How does the weaker ox maintain his "relationship" with his stronger brother? Simply by submitting to the will of his stronger yoke-mate. Oh yes, the weaker ox can fight, he can pull in a different direction, and he can chafe against the yoke. He can stubbornly refuse to move forward when the farmer gives the command to his lead ox. But if he does not resist, and if he will fall into step beside his stronger brother, then his burden is indeed light and his work is not hard.
In the letter under study the Apostle John was addressing the heresy of Gnosticism, which denied that Jesus actually took upon Himself fallen human flesh. "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world" (1 John 4:3). In the opening words of his letter, John declared "we have touched Him, we have seen Him!" Jesus is real, not some phantom or figment of the imagination. When John said that Christ came "in the flesh" he used the Greek word sarx, which can only be understood as the concrete form of sinful flesh into which all humanity have been born. Anyone who denies this is exhibiting the "spirit of antichrist." "The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study" (Ellen G. White, The Youth's Instructor, Oct. 13, 1898). Mrs. White also stated that "study of the incarnation of Christ is a fruitful field" and highly recommended it, even to youth. Contemplating the nature of Christ should not be left to PhD theologians. But she also stated, "In contemplating the incarnation of Christ in humanity, we stand baffled before an unfathomable mystery, that the human mind cannot comprehend" (The Signs of the Times, July 30, 1896). The nature which Christ assumed is to be our worthwhile study, but don't expect to get to the bottom of its expression of God's love for lost mankind. All of eternity will not be long enough to plumb the depths of God's unfathomable agape.
If Christ did not take our fallen, sinful flesh which needed redeeming then there was no use in His coming in flesh at all. In His capacity as God He certainly has the power decisively to deal with sin, and "destroy the works of the devil" by merely zapping Satan and all his followers out of existence. But such is not the way of God.
The atonement was to be accomplished through every aspect of Christ's life not just His death and resurrection, which paid the penalty for sin and proved God's power over death. Facing the devil on his own ground, in flesh that was susceptible to temptation through the laws of heredity, Christ overcame all and gained the victory over sin in the same flesh in which we have to face the devil. This is powerful, wonderful good news! As our elder, stronger Brother Jesus took the yoke upon Himself and bears the burden. "Only by His subjecting Himself to the law of heredity could He reach sin in full and true measure as sin truly is. ... In delivering us from sin, it is not enough that we shall be saved from the sins that we have actually committed; we must be saved from committing other sins. And that this may be so, there must be met and subdued this hereditary liability to sin; we must become possessed of power to keep us from sinning--a power to conquer this liability, this hereditary tendency that is in us to sin. ... And to keep us from sinning, His righteousness is imparted to us in our flesh; as our flesh, with its liability to sin, was imparted to Him. Thus He is the complete Saviour." (A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, pp. 48, 49; emphases in original). By taking upon His sinless nature, our fallen sinful nature with all of its hereditary liabilities, Jesus proved the genius of God (see also The Desire of Ages pp. 49, 117, 123, and 311). The atonement solved a number of problems in that one divine event.
"The only plan that could be devised to save the human race was that which called for the incarnation, humiliation, and crucifixion of the Son of God, the Majesty of heaven. After the plan of salvation was devised, Satan could have no ground upon which to found his suggestion that God, because so great, could care nothing for so insignificant a creature as man." (Signs of the Times, Jan. 20, 1890). We can only stand in complete awestruck silence in the face of such love. And in that awestruck silence we begin to develop an appropriate sense of appreciation that will motivate us to vindicate God's name through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our life to overcome every temptation Satan can think to throw at us. If God gave this much, how can I continue to resist and fight against His easy yoke? (see Steps to Christ, pp. 27, 47, 63, and The Desire of Ages, p. 176).
And then there's that tricky word "absolute." Many claim that we can not have "absolute perfection" because only God is "absolutely perfect." Our Quarterly stresses the "absolute sinlessness of Jesus" on one page, and then referring to 1 John 3:6 and 9 declares regarding John's admonition to cease from sinning, "this sounds quite absolute." Indeed, it is absolute. John does not in any way countenance the idea of a life of continued sinning for the person who claims to follow Christ. The nature which Christ assumed in His incarnation leaves no loopholes for any of us to claim that sin is too powerful to conquer. Overcoming sin in our lives, right now, is not a trivial or peripheral subject--it is the crux of whether or not the Gospel's message is true. It is time to stop quibbling about the subject of sin in our lives. We must be decisive about our involvement with the world and it's sins. So long as we entertain the notion that we can't help but stumble, we will most assuredly continue to stumble. However, Paul admonished us: "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14). "Though sin is real, Christians have no choice but to put it away from their lives, no matter the cost."
And what is the cost? Death. Death to self through full submission to Christ: " ... Christ can not come in fully, unless there is a full submission to Him. Let there be some dying here. Let there be some actual dying to self. That is what it means; it means death." (A. T. Jones, 1893 General Conference Bulletin, p. 299, original edition).