The Sin-Killing Sight
“No one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.”
– 1 John 3:6
The Verse Explained
These are clear and soul-piercing words. No one who continues in unrepentant, un-fought sin has seen or known God in Christ….
Now, I say these words are clear, but why do I qualify “sin” by saying that it is “continuous, unrepentant, and un-fought?” I say this because the word translated “keeps on sinning” is a present active participle, meaning that the idea behind this phrase is a present, on going action. John’s warning, then, seems to be directed at those who are sinning, that is, those who are aware of a sin in their lives, have perhaps been challenged about it by scripture or another believer, and who are still blatantly committing the sin with no effort to put it to death.
John is not condemning us for failure or falling in areas where we are at war with sin (1 Jn. 1:8-2:2 make it clear that believers continue to contend with sin this side of death), rather he is talking about those who recognize a sin and yet do not care to fight it in their lives….who live in it and so “are sinning” in a present, active, ongoing and unrepentant manner. John says that someone like this has not seen or known Christ, that is to say, they are not saved (or at the least, there is no reason to believe that they are saved and they should have no assurance of their salvation in such a state).
So, a person living in unrepentant sin has not seen or known Christ….this leads to two interesting implications that I want to quickly mention.
Sight and Knowledge of Christ Breaks Sin’s Back
The first implication of this verse I want to consider is that we cannot continue in un-fought sin after we have truly seen and known Christ.
There is something about the true, Spirit-granted sight of Christ by faith and the knowledge of the beauty of God in Him that breaks the back of sin in our lives. A heart that has seen and known (and is seeing and knowing more of) Christ is like a the coming of Spring to the snow pile of sin in our hearts……it creates an atmosphere in which sin cannot thrive and must – ultimately – be melted to nothing. But why is this the case? Why does true sight and knowledge of God in His Son render us unable to continue in unrepentant sin? I think a definition of sin will help us understand this a bit better.
In Jeremiah 2:13, the heart of sin is described as turning from the fountain of living water (God) and instead choosing to drink from broken, barren wells (anything apart from God that is looked to to do what only God can do):
“…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
And again in Romans 1:23 and 25, Paul explains sin as essentially an exchange of God for “not-God” as root and goal of our lives:
“[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…”
“They exchanged the truth about Hod for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”
With these texts in mind (as well as the witness of scripture as a whole), I think we can faithfully define “sin” as ‘choosing ‘not-God’ over God.” That is to say, “sin” is simply what we call the fruit of a heart that loves something other than God more than God, and so chooses and pursues something other than God as the supreme treasure / joy / satisfaction / goal / hope etc. of its existence. That is sin, and that is what the sight and knowledge of God in Christ mortally wounds.
Because to truly see Christ and to truly know Christ is to have our hearts enlightened to one whose beauty surpasses and swallows up all other beauties in existence. The universe is alive with the beauty of God, nature rumbles with His joy, and the heart of every human on the planet knows that there is a Person who is both infinitely terrifying and infinitely desirable before whom our naked souls stand exposed……but apart from Christ we are strangers to this beauty, barred from this joy, and enemies of the Almighty Person whom our hearts desire and fear and – because of sin – hate.
However, when Christ is seen and known through the gospel, we waken to these things and are invited in. The sight and knowledge that John is talking about slays sin because it captivates and conquers our hearts with a beauty greater than the entire universe of “not-God” can offer….this is what Jonathan Edwards was talking about when he said that sin requires the “expulsive power of a greater affection” in order to be driven from the heart. Just as water drives the air from an empty cup, so too the sight and knowledge of God in Christ is the beauty that drives sinful hungers from the hearts of the redeemed. And having seen Him we cannot – for long – look away.
Sight and Knowledge of Christ Repels Sin’s Advance
Second, this verse also tells us something of how we can combat sin whenever it rises up within us (and it will, John is clear that we never become sinless in this life, 1 John 1:8, 2:2). If to see and know Christ renders us unable to continue in sin, I would submit that a fresh sight of and knowledge of Him will aid us in the moment of sin’s temptations.
When a temptation to look or think or react kindles in our hearts…..when an argument or attack or anxiety glides like a specter through our minds….when the chilling hands of fear and disbelief close around the throat of our faith….what we need most desperately in those moments when sin is on our soulstep is to see and know CHRIST. When our mouths are opening to the sewage of sin’s remaining outposts within us, that is precisely when we need to join the angels in beholding the risen Christ…..that is when we need to anticipate with the trees of the field the coming of Creation’s King….that is when we need to shudder with the thunders of Calvary’s love and hear – as Mary did – our resurrected Lord calling our name. What can truly sever the nerve of sin, even as it reaches for the forbidden fruit? Nothing but seeing and knowing something more precious – the Living God in Jesus Christ. And we see Him and know Him in scripture.
So the initial sight and knowledge of God’s glory in Christ snaps the back of our sin and the continued beholding of that glory (especially in His Word) beats back the death throes of sin that are continually buffeting us this side of eternity. And, upon entering eternity’s endless ages it will be the beholding of God in Christ that will be our ever increasing joy, world without end. Wonderful! It might truly be said the entire Christian life, from regeneration to the limitless reaches of eternity is one of beholding – with exponentially increasing depth and joy – the beauty of God in Christ…..
Have We Seen Him?
And so, I have to ask you….have you seen Him? Have we looked into scripture and seen the Beauty of God in Jesus Christ? Does the incarnate Creator compel you? Does the dying and rising God captivate you? Do the open arms of the King of Reality beckon you? One way for us to answer this question is to look at our lives. Are there sin’s that we know about and yet do not fight? Are there “secret sins” that we keep partitioned off from the rest of our lives? Are there continual, unrepentant, un-warred against patterns of rebellion against God? If the answer is “yes”……then we have likely never seen Christ in a saving way……….my friend, you can run to Him as your treasure and soul-satisfying savior even before the end of this post….I pray that you would.
I close by praying 2 Corinthians 3:18 for each of us: May we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, be transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to the next. In Christ’s name, amen.