Friday, April 12, 2013 — Week of 2 Easter
Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burma, 1850
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 958)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 134, 135 (evening)
1 John 3:1-10
This first half of the third chapter of 1st John I find problematic. The writer is setting up an expectation that can only lead either to pride or anxiety, it seems to me. Beginning at verse four, the author argues that being a child of God is equated with sinlessness. “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. …Everyone who does what is righteous is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. …Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God…”
This passage contradicts the writer’s own earlier words — “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. …If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. …But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” It is also a contradiction of the message of the Gospel as it is proclaimed by other New Testament writers.
At the heart of Paul’s preaching is the insistence that trying to be sinless is a project that can only lead to anxiety and death. All have sinned, including those who regard themselves as blameless before the law as Paul once did. Righteousness before God is God’s gift. Paul calls it justification by grace. All that is necessary is to accept the gift. That’s faith.
It would be an abuse of the Gospel to say that being sinless is the primary expectation of followers of Jesus and failure in that project is consignment to the devil. That’s not Good News but a recipe for anxiety. It is the opposite of Paul’s message. It is also inconsistent with Jesus’ own life and behavior. The only people he really got angry with were those who thought they were living up to the expectations of the law and were sinless. He always embraced those who recognized their own sin and weakness.
There is another way to approach this. Because God has loved us so freely, we can be free from the compulsion to worry about ourselves — (am I sinning or not?). Forget it. Grace is abundant. From that foundation, I am truly free. I am perfectly loved and completely accepted. Therefore, I need not act as though I were trying to accomplish something, as if to please a judging God or to live up to another person’s expectations. Therefore, a good act can simply flow spontaneously out of my being. If I am living in union with Christ, thanks to his complete acceptance, then my being is grounded in sinlessness. I am free to know and to care. Out of that energy, flows the fruits of the spirit. That’s life in Christ.
There is a free and non-compulsive element to that life. We surrender and almost rest in God. Life comes to us with its demands, and without self-consciousness we respond out of our own being. That’s a freedom that can manifest the sinlessness of Christ. But if we get self-absorbed — …is that a sin? …am I sinning? — we simply block ourselves from the liberating gift of God’s grace freely given.