The Sins of the Saints
June 24th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
THE SINS OF THE SAINTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 3:9
6-24-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sins of the Saints. And we, reading in this blessed and inspired Book, are talking about ourselves. This is the last message brought from the epistle of 1 John; and it is doubly, quadruply meaningful and significant to us because of the character of the man, who he was, and because of the vast years of experience by which he had served the Lord. For you see, not only are we listening to the beloved disciple, the apostle John, of the three, Peter, James, and John, who were in the innermost circle of those who followed our Master, none was quite so sensitive or so tender as the beloved disciple. Jesus seemingly had an affection for him that went deeper than life itself. And John reflects that sensitivity. Not only are we listening to the disciple whom Jesus loved most and best of all, but we are also listening to a pastor who has reached the age of at least ninety or more years. Think of the experience of someone like that, who, being close to the Lord, in the very heart of the Savior, now with the passing of the years and the years, speaks out of the fullness of that ministry.
For example, it is interesting to me to know, to see, that John is the only one who speaks of the unpardonable sin. Our Lord spoke of that in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Matthew. There is a sin that a man can commit that is not forgiven in this life, nor in the life to come. And John is the only one that mentions that, outside of our Lord. He says, “There is a sin unto death; I do not say that you pray for it” [1 John 5:16]. A frightening thing, that a man out of the years and years of his experience would mention that. What could such a sin be? What could a man do that God would say, “He is forever cast out, never a place of repentance”? What could that be? We can go through the gamut of human sin. Murder, take another man’s life, shed another man’s blood; but Moses did that. Adultery, there is no sin that enters into human personality like adultery; but David did that. To deny the Lord, in vehement words and vile language, swearing and cursing; Peter did that. To persecute, to make havoc of the house of God, the congregation of the Lord’s people; Saul of Tarsus did that.
So far as I am able to understand, the unpardonable sin is the final and ultimate rejection of Christ: “I will not believe. I will not accept.” This is the sin that the judgment bar of Almighty God, the Lord, will not forgive [Matthew 12:31-32].
Another thing that this aged pastor will speak of: what about prayer and our asking of God? The apostle says, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him” [1 John 5:14-15]. I can just see the heart of this pastor as he listens to the speaking of his people. “Pastor John, I pray, and my prayers don’t go above my head. It seems to me that the door of heaven is closed. God doesn’t hear me. I don’t understand.” And the pastor replies, “We do not need to be without assurance when we come before God, asking, interceding, importuning, making petition; for we have confidence in God, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us: and if we know that He hear us, then we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”
“The trouble,” the apostle would say, “lies in our attempt to impose our will upon God’s will.” When a man gives himself to the will of God, absolute nothing of himself, only what is of the Lord, when a man gives himself wholly to the will of God, there is no selfish “me” in this petition, “I ask for Jesus’ sake, for the glory and praise of the Lord, all of it of Thee, and not of me.” When a man can give himself to the will of the Lord, then when he prays, God listens and God answers. The first thing all of us ought to do when we stand before the Lord, or bow before Him in intercession, is, “Does the prayer that I pray please God? Is this according to the will of the Lord, searching the mind of Christ? Is this His choice for me?” Then if it is, with importunity, speak and intercede.
One of the great prayers of all time was George Mueller, of the orphanage in England. And that man would pray sometimes eighteen years and sometimes twenty years for the conversion of a friend. And in his age, he said, “I have prayed for such and such man over forty years.” When we are convinced that this is the will of God, then with importunity we beg and plead. The great primary fundamental basis of getting the ear of God is that what we ask for, what we desire of Him is that it glorify God, it is according to His will. Then if it is according to His will, then let’s ask and stay with it.
Sometimes God may try us to see if we are really interested. A little bland indifferent prayer has no meaning to God; it doesn’t mean anything to you. Like the fellow, kneel down and say his prayers at night, little mechanical things, then finally got to the place where he’d just kneel down and say, “Ditto”; then the next night, “Ditto.” Such an intercession like that could never move the heart of God. According to the Lord’s will, what God chooses, then knowing God wills it, then to pray for it, beg for it, importune for it, stay with it; “This is the confidence, the assurance that we have in Him: if we ask according to His will He hears us; and if we know that He hears us, then we have the petitions that we desired of Him” [1 John 5:14-15].
Then I can listen to the people as they come to the apostle John, the aged pastor, and say, “How can I know that I am born again? How can I know I’m saved? How can I be assured that when I die I’ll go to heaven, I’ll see God’s face?” Now, in the epistle, John answers that, and he gives seven tests, seven of them, how you can know that you’re born again. I read them. “If ye know that He is righteous, you know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him” [1 John 2:29]. And in each one of these seven tests, he’ll use that word, “born, born.” A man that is born again, that is a child of God, is a man who loves to do right. Right in his business, right in his house, right in his daily walk, right in his relationships with others. He is a man that loves to do right.
Number two, number three, “Whatsoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” [1 John 3:9]. That’s the second sign of the true Christian. And I’m coming back to it in a moment.
The fourth sign, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. And he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” [1 John 4:7-8]. A sign of a man being born again is his loving, sympathetic, understanding spirit toward others and especially in the household of faith. Number five, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and everyone that loveth Him that begat, the Father, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him” [1 John 5:1]. The apostle Paul said, “No man can call Jesus, Lord Christ, but by the Spirit of God” [1 Corinthians 12:3].
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” [1 John 5:1]. This is how we are saved. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness: and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 10:9-10]. The sign of a born again believer is his belief in and confession of the Lord Jesus Christ. “He is my Savior, He died for me.”
Number six: how can one know that he’s born again? “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world: even our faith” [1 John 5:4]. A sign of a born again Christian is a man who does not lay down his arms against the world. He never makes peace with the deadly foe, but all the days of his life does he war against the encroachments and the blandishments of the world. And then number seven: “We know that whatsoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” [1 John 5:18]. Could I say it like this: an addition to Christ, an addition to us, is a subtraction from them. A man who is born again keeps himself from the world. To be in the world is one thing, to be numbered with them is one thing; but to be numbered with the children of God is another thing. And if we’re with these people of the Lord, then we’re not with those people who are against Him.
Now to return to that passage: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for God’s seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” [1 John 3:9]. I do not know of a passage in the New Testament that has given birth to more false theology than this, the persuasion of sinless perfection, that if we are children of God, born of God, that we do not sin. That’s why I had us read this passage in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans: “What I want to do, I do not do; and what I do not want to do, that I do! O wretched man that I am” [Romans 7:19, 24]! The drag of this carnal, mortal body is oppressive to the spirit on the inside of us as long as we live, and we never get beyond it! “There is no man that sinneth not” [1 Kings 8:46].
Well, what does it mean here then, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; God’s seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”? [1 John 3:9]. That is an unhappy and tragic mistranslation. For you see, in the English language, everything that we speak has to be placed in a tense, in a pigeonhold of time. You cannot talk in the English language without tense; every verb has some kind of tense. And you can’t speak in our nomenclature without using tense. A thing you speak of, you have to say it was past, or it’s present, or it’s future. We can’t talk without tense. But other languages are not made like that. Some of them like Hebrew and Greek use their verbs not in tense, but they use it to describe kinds of action, forms of action. For example, in the Greek language there is a whole verbal system called the aorist tense, aorist tense. That is, a thing is looked upon as being just that; the thing happened, just that, aoristic. Then in the Greek language, there is a tense, what we’d call a tense, that looks upon a thing as continuing on, linear active action; a thing is looked upon as continuing. When you translate that into the English language you use a present indicative. Now, this is the verb that is used here in this passage: “He cannot sin, the child of God who is born of the Lord cannot sin, hamartanein,” is linear continuous action; “The man that is a child of God cannot practice sin.” And that’s exact translation of the verb above: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, doth not practice sin” [1 John 3:9]. If you practice sin, and it continues and it continues, John says that is a sure sign that you are not born again. For the child of God, the man who is born of God cannot live in sin; he cannot practice sin; he cannot continue in sin because the Spirit of God that is in him will not let him do it.
I think of the prodigal. Are you happy in your sin? Do you like it? Do you volitionally practice it? Do you? If you do, it is the sure sign, says the apostle John, that you’re not born again, you’re not a child of God! But in this world of sin, who is the unhappy one in it? Pick him out. He is the child of God. That prodigal boy, down in the gutter, feeding the swine, living in the world, wasting his substance with harlots and in riotous ungodly living, the boy said, “I have never been so miserable in my life!” Why, does the world find itself miserable living in drunkenness, or living in harlotry, or living in compromise and iniquity? No. They have a pig’s heart: they like the dirt, they like the filth! One of the most unusual things to me in life is the war that is going on about pornographic literature and films. Who likes that? Who is pleased with that? The child of God, does he like salaciousness and vile iniquity? If he’s in it, he’s unhappy, he’s miserable! And that prodigal boy said, “I’ve never been so agonizingly unhappy and miserable in my life! Why, in my father’s house are lowly menial servants that are happier than I” [Luke 15:11-32]. And when a man is born again, always remember, he’ll come back; always, he’ll come back. Remember that about your children. They may be prodigal, that boy was; they may fall into sin and mistake, that boy did; but he came back! And that child of yours that you’ve reared in the love and nurture of the Lord, and have led to Christ, wait, wait, he’ll come back; he’ll be knocking at the door. For that is a sign of what it is to be a Christian: “Lord, out here in this sin, out here in this world, here in this compromise, Lord, I’m unhappy. I’m not doing what God wants me to do. I’m miserable!” He’ll be back, he’ll be home. That’s a sign of what it is to be saved.
And that is exactly what the apostle said; it has nothing to do with sinless perfection. Who is sinless? Who is perfect? Not one of us, no not one. But this has to do with the practice of sin. Now may I translate it exactly? “Whosoever is born of God doth not practice sin,” it’s not a way of life, “God’s seed remains in him”; the Holy Spirit striving with him, the seed of the word of God that cleanses us. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” [Psalm 119:11]. He’s known the Lord, and the Holy Spirit is in him. “God’s seed remains in him, and he cannot continue in sin, he cannot go on in the practice of sin because he is born of God!” [1 John 3:9].
I have not been a pastor as long as the sainted John who was over ninety years of age, but I’ve been a pastor a long time; nor could I tell you the times, and the times, and the times, and the times that I have heard God’s born again people come to me and say, “I have drifted away, I have forsaken the Lord, I have followed afar off, and I’ve been so wretched. I want to come back. I want to rededicate my life. I want to get right.” Many times down here with many tears do I hear people say that to me. That is a sure sign of the new birth. We are born again in Him.
Now sweet people, I ought to quit. Let me follow one other thing. There are seven signs – and we’ll just go through them quickly – there are seven things whereby we can know that we’re genuine, we’re not false. And each one of them is introduced with a, “If we say,” or, “He that saith.” If you want to take your Bible and follow this, turn to 1 John and you can do it easily; for each one of these, a sign of genuineness, each one of them begins in the same way. Evidently John, pastor of the church, had many testimony meetings, and these people would stand up and testify, and, “If we say,” each one was introduced. Now, there are seven signs, there are seven tests of the genuineness of a man’s faith in the Lord. All right, number one: 1 John 1, verse 6, 1 John 1, verse 6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and in the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanseth us from all sin.” A sign of the genuineness of a Christian is that he wants to walk in the light and not in the dark.
All right, number two: verse 8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The man who says, “Look at me, how fine and righteous I am. Lord, I thank Thee, that I this, that, and the other, that I’m not even like that publican over there” [Luke 18:11]; that’s a sign of a false profession. For the man who is close to God is like Simon Peter, “Lord depart from me, I am a sinful man” [Luke 5:8]; he is conscious of his dereliction. All right, number three: verse 10 in that first chapter, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us.” Christianity begins in the need of a Savior. “I’m a lost man, I’m an undone man. Woe is men, I’m a sinful man!” that’s where the gospel begins, and that’s how Christ can be a Savior to us.
All right, number four, “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” [1 John 2:3-4]. The man who is a child of God strives to please the Lord. All right, number five, “He that saith, he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” [1 John 2:6]. There was a man named Sheldon who wrote a book, In His Steps, or, What Would Jesus Do? and that is the spirit that characterizes the child of God: what would Jesus do? Would Jesus do this? The child of God who is born again is someone who seeks to do as the Lord would do.
All right, number six: that’s second chapter, verse 9, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness, even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him” [1 John 2:9-10]. It’s like that verse in 1 John 3:14, “We know we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”
Now the last one, the seventh one, is in the fourth chapter, verse 20: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? This is the commandment that we have from Him: that he who loveth God love his brother also.” No matter who he is or what he’s done, we love him just the same, may not love what he’s doing, may not love what he does, but we love him.
You know, in my community where I pastored, there were two farmers, and they belonged to the church. And over some kind of a quarrel about a boundary line between them, there was hatred and bitterness. Why, those two men would eat at the same table and never speak to one another. They taught their children to hate one another. Upon a day, revival came into that community where I pastored. The Spirit of God came upon the congregation. And one of those farmers went over there to the farmer that he’d hated for years and years and years, and taught his children to hate him and his family, he went over there and extended his hand, and said, “My brother, I have been wrong. I ask your forgiveness. I want to be your friend. But whether you want to be my friend or not, I want you to forgive me, and I want to be your friend.” The man grasped the hand of the farmer neighbor and said, “This has been a grief to me, the years and the years and the years of our lives. Neighbor,” he said, “put that boundary between us anywhere you want! You say it’s here, that’s our boundary; if you say it’s here, I leave it to you! But I want to be your friend.” That, that is the Christian faith. “I am not your enemy, never! I never would seek to hurt you or harm you, never! I want to help. I want to pray for you. I love you in Christ’s name.” That is the Christian. And John says that is a sign of the authenticity and the genuineness of the faith.
Well, you can just sense the long years of the blessed pastoral ministry of that sainted disciple when you read the letter he wrote to his people. Now, we stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or a one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus, to let Him come into your soul and life, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, to be one with us in this ministry of the Lord, while we sing this appeal, down one of these stairways, into this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, here I come. I gladly do it.” Make it now, choose it now, while we stand and while we sing.
OF THE SAINTS
1 John 3:9
John – what he says is significant and meaningful for us
the inner circle, He seemingly was nearest to heart of Jesus
was a pastor for many years
writes out of his experience, answering questions people have brought to him
through the years
What of the unpardonable sin?(1 John 5:16,
What of unanswered prayer?(1 John 5:14-15,
II. How do we know we are saved?
John writes seven tests by which we can know we’ve been born again
to do right(1 John 2:29)
one another (1 John 4:7-8)
Believing Jesus is the Christ(1 John 5:1, 1
Corinthians 12:3, Romans 10:9-10)
the world(1 John 5:4)
to God, not Satan(1 John 5:18)
in the same verse – does not sin; cannot sin (1
Experience deniesit(Romans 3:23,7:19, 24, 1
John wrote that a man cannot continue on in sin because he is born of God; and
whoever is born of God does not practice sin(1
John 3:9), John 15:3, Psalm 119:11)
i. Prodigal son(Luke 15:11-32)
Seven tests of Christian genuineness
to walk in the light, not darkness(1 John 1:6)
sin (1 John 1:8)
First to admit he’s a sinner, needs Jesus(Luke
18:11, 1 John 1:10)
God’s commandments (1 John 2:2-4)
in His steps (1 John 2:6)
brother(1 John 2:9-10, 3:14)
the brethren(1 John 4:20-21)