A Weekday Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Monday May 18, 2020
1 John 3:4-10
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 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. 9 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. 10 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.
Today marks 67 days from Friday, March 13th, the last day in a classroom for most students in the state and the day Governor Ivey issued the first State of Emergency regarding COVID-19 in Alabama. Since the 1960 publication of Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, it has been widely accepted that 21 days is sort of the magic number needed to make or break a habit. However, in a 2009 study, researchers at University College London observed that it took participants anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, with the average being 66 days. This means that, for many of us, we are just now crossing the threshold from desperate survival mode into habit solidifying territory. ‘Habit’ is a relatively neutral term, simply referring to something that we have done so many times that we now do it more or less without thinking about it. Our morning routines are habits: shower, brush teeth, make coffee, etc. We can almost do them in our sleep, because, quite honestly, we would rather be sleeping. In corona-tine, many of our newfound habits have been positive; like spending more time with our children, taking more walks, and, at least for us, baking breads and pretzels using our wild sourdough starter several times a week. Other habits may not be quite so positive, like watching more television, hoarding all available toilet paper, and not going to church (except of course on the live-stream).
Regular repetition is what turns something we do into a part of who we are, and, as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. In our passage this morning, the Apostle is warning the church to be conscious in regards to their routine actions. In other words, it matters what we do. The message of the Gnostics, which had begun to trickle into the church, was that, since faith was a matter of the spiritual realm rather than the material realm, a person’s actions are inconsequential. In essence, because we have already been forgiven, it doesn’t really matter what we do, therefore we should just do whatever we want. The implications of this line of thinking, especially in a society as morally depraved as that of ancient Rome, were particularly tragic. John wanted the church to clearly understand that the Gnostics misunderstood the all-encompassing nature of salvation.
The Pharisees, however, lived on the polar opposite end of the righteousness spectrum. When they questioned Jesus in regards to why His disciples didn’t follow the custom and wash their hands before they ate, they weren’t objecting on the grounds of proper hygiene but on their authorized path to spiritual purity. First century hand-washing wasn’t 30 seconds of rigorous rubbing with soap and hot water for the purposes of slowing the spread of infectious disease (that wouldn’t come until the mid-1800s), but gently pouring tepid water from a jar over the hands as a symbolic act signifying their own personal righteousness. Jesus warned the Pharisees that it wasn’t what went into their mouths that made them spiritually unclean, but what came out that revealed the true condition of their hearts. Physically clean hands can not make inwardly clean hearts, but the product of a pure heart is pure actions and pure speech.
Additionally, as we will discuss more in the coming days, one of the most revealing things about us is the way we love, or do not love, our brother. This includes the way we treat, talk, and even think about others, especially those who are different than us. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus sent a shockwave through His audience by suggesting that a theologically-deficient outsider more accurately portrayed the character and nature of God’s love than a law-abiding insider. Throughout the New Testament, believers are called to show gentleness, respect, compassion, and patience (just to name a few), to those they disagree with. The only people Jesus became visibly angry with were those who claimed to know God but used harsh legalism as a means of self-justification, control, and manipulation.
John and Jesus both clearly indicate that inward conversion necessarily and inevitably leads to outward transformation. While it isn’t true that after coming to faith a Christian will never sin again, it is true that, in a very real way, a Christian will not WANT to sin again. The urge to violate God’s law will not ever fully dissipate, but the good news is that for those who do find themselves stuck in a habitual practice of sin, the seed, or Spirit, of God in them will be at work convicting them of their iniquity. God is the Righteous Judge who fully forgives when we confess our sins, be they intentional or incidental, because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice who takes away our sins. He is the Sovereign King who shows us what it means to love and really cares how we love and how we live. When the children of the King remember who they are in Him, they can finally live like Whose they are.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the hope that we have in You. You see the works of our hands, the words of our mouths, the thoughts of our minds, and the attitudes of our hearts. We confess that we have sinned against You, at times habitually and intentionally. We ask that You would continue Your transforming work within us, by the power of Your Spirit. Shine Your light into the deepest, darkest places of our hearts that we might reflect Your glory and become more like You. We ask this in Your powerful name, Amen.