The Sins of the Saints
June 24th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
THE SINS OF THE SAINTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 3:9
6-24-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Could I also add a word of welcome to the enormous number of visitors we have this morning? We pray that the preaching of the gospel of Christ shall be a blessing to your heart and that the dear Lord will be with us in power and in strength as we leave this blessed place. The title of the sermon is The Sins of the Saints, and it is a review of the first epistle of the apostle John.
What he says springs out of a life of long duration. The other disciples had been dead for many, many years, and John alone survives. John is also the pastor of the church at Ephesus and has been for possibly thirty years. He is an aged man; he’s between ninety and a hundred years old. What he says is doubly, triply, quadruply significant and meaningful for us. First, because of who he is: in that inner circle, Peter, James, and John, John seemingly was nearest to the heart of our Lord. He was the disciple Jesus loved, “the beloved disciple.” And if anyone could reflect the heart and mind of Christ Jesus, truly it would be the chosen beloved disciple John. But another thing about him, the fact that he was a pastor for so many, many years makes what he says meaningful because he speaks out of an incomparably rich experience. As you read the epistle, the heart of a pastor, who has been a shepherd for the flock of our Christ for so long, beats, is apparent, is manifest in every syllable and word of the letter. What apparently he writes out of is what the people have brought to him and have asked him through the years of his pastoral leadership.
For example, some would come and say, “John, that unpardonable sin, it frightens us. Is there a sin that a man can commit and there’s no forgiveness in this world or in the world to come? John, is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin?” And John replies, “There is. There is a sin that a man can sin unto death: and I do not ask that you pray for it” [1 John 5:16]. What kind of a sin is that? The fact of it – that it could be – frightens us. Is there a sin that damns a man out of heaven, out of the presence of God into hell and perdition, and forever he can never be forgiven? Is there a sin so awesome as that? John says, “There is. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that ye pray for it.” What could that be? Could it be murder, take another man’s life, shed another man’s blood? No, for Moses was a murderer. Could it be adultery? There is no sin that disintegrates human personality like adultery. No, for David was an adulterer, as well as a murderer to hide it away. What is that sin that is unto death that is never forgiven? Is it the denial of the Lord? In seeking to save one’s own life to protect one’s own interests, to disavow any knowledge of the Lord? No, Simon Peter did that with oaths and cursings, with foul and bitter words. He denied he even knew the Lord. Well, could it be the persecution, wrecking havoc with the people of God, destroying the witness of the church of Christ, could it be that? No, Saul of Tarsus was guilty of that.
Well, what is the sin unto death that is never forgiven? As I searched through the Scriptures, as the Lord speaks of it and as John writes about it, there is just one sin that I know that damns a man forever, and that sin is the ultimate and the final rejection of Christ. He cannot be a Savior to the man who willfully refuses to be saved. And when a man refuses the witness of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to the saving grace of God the Son, there is no other hope; it is a sin unto death and is never forgiven [Matthew 12:31-32].
Then I can see some of the members of the church come to the aged pastor and say, “Pastor John, we pray and our prayers rise no higher than our heads. The heavens are brass, and God doesn’t listen. He can’t hear me.” And the apostle writes, “Why, no, no. This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us: and if we know that He hearest, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him” [1 John 5:14-15]. The trouble, John says, about our praying is that we seek to impose and to force our will upon the will of God. It will not work. There’ll be no answer! There’s no victory! John says, “When we pray, first we must pray in the spirit” [Romans 8:26], in the heart, in the will, in the choice of God. When we leave the choice to Him, praying in God’s will, then we can ask anything and be importunate in it, and God will give us “the petitions that we desired of Him.” So many things we ask for are personally motivated. It is something we choose; we have asked for it. There’s to be none of us in praying; there’s to be nothing of self in it. It all is to be of God, and when a man can get himself where he hides himself out, crucifies himself, he’s dead. A dead man doesn’t have desires; a dead man is without feeling in himself; so the man must die to himself if he would live to God. Then when he prays, anything that he asks, God will do it for him; asking in the will of Christ, in His Spirit, and in His name. Then when the answer is not immediate, it becomes just the testing of God, a trial to see whether we really meant what we prayed for. A bland, indifferent prayer could never move heaven, and most of our prayers are like that. We say little things before we go to bed at night, little indifferent things.
I heard of a fellow who, when he went to bed at night, said a little prayer. Finally the mechanical effort was just so trite that he got down and said, “Ditto, Lord.” Then the next night, “Ditto,” again; and the next night, “Ditto,” again. Prayer that moves God is prayer of a man who has identified himself with the cause and purpose of Christ. Then he can be importunate! George Mueller, the great leader of that orphanage in England, prayed ten years for a man, and then he was won; and then twenty years for another man, and he turned and was saved. And in his old age, George Mueller said, “I’ve been praying for that man for forty years, forty years!” That is prayer that will touch the heart of God and find an answer from heaven.
Then the people of the flock come to the sainted apostle and say, “John, how do we know we’re saved? How can you know you’re born again? How do I know I’ll go to heaven when I die? How do I know that I know that I’ll see the face of Jesus someday? How can I know that I am born again?” And in this epistle, John writes seven tests by which we can know that we’ve been saved, born again. It’s a strange thing: in the epistle, he uses that word “born” seven times. And these are the seven tests as to whether or not we’re saved, we’ve been born again. The first one is 1 John 2:29: “If we know that He is righteous, you know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” The first characteristic of a man who is born again is that he loves to do right. He loves to do right in his business – isn’t that an indictment of so much of American business, American labor, American economic and political activity? – if a man is born again, he loves to do right! His word is his bond; he’s an honest man. He’s that way at home. He’s that way in his relationships with all others. He loves to do right. That’s one sign, and the first one John writes about a man who is born again, he’s a Christian.
The next two are in the same verse: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for God’s seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” [1 John 3:9]. And we’re coming back to that.
The fourth one: how do you know you’re born again? “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” [1 John 4:7-8]. One of the signs that a man is born again is that he loves God’s people. There’s a tenderness in him, there’s a compassion in him that is felt when you talk to him. You see it in his face and in the tone of his voice. The man is a Christian; he is born again. Not that we love a man’s sins, but that we love the man himself; for Jesus’ sake we love him.
The fifth one: how does a man know that he’s born again? “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and everyone that loveth Him that begat,” loveth God the Father, “loveth Him also that is begotten of Him,” loveth God the Son [1 John 5:1]. In the Book of Corinthians, the apostle Paul said, “No man can call Jesus Lord Christ but by the Holy Spirit” [1 Corinthians 12:3]. And in the tenth chapter of Romans, the apostle wrote, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”[Romans 10:9] . A man who is born again is a man who believes that Jesus is the Christ of God!
Six: how do you know you’re born again? First John 5:4: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world: even our faith.” The man who is born of God wars against the world! He feels the conflict in it, and the confrontation is a part of his daily life. The man who is born of God, who is a Christian, never lays down his arms against trial and temptation. He never surrenders to the deadly foe. The man who is a born again Christian is a man who belongs to Christ; therefore, he’s not a belonging to the world. I would submit: isn’t it axiomatic that if he belongs to us, then he doesn’t belong to them? If he’s an addition to Christ, then he’s a subtraction from them, and the man who is born of God confronts the world and separates himself from it.
And seven: how do you know we’re born again? “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]. Now we’re going to discuss that. What is this thing that John so emphasizes? “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin: for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin” – the man of God, born of God – “and he cannot sin because he is born of God” [1 John 3:9]. What does that mean? There are whole systems of false theology that are built upon the translation here in this King James Version, and it is a tragedy, for the fault lies in the translation! This is a mistranslation of the grossest sort and the grossest kind, and it has led to untold error and heresy. “For a man to be born of God, he cannot commit sin,” so the translation says. Experience denies that. That’s why I had you read in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul said, “I war in my soul! It is a confrontation every day of my life, for 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]. What is this, “If a man is born of God he cannot sin”? And, of course, it led to the false theological system of sinless perfection: that we are not really Christians until somehow we arrive at that state of Christian maturity where we live above sin. And yet the Scriptures say, “There is no man that liveth that sinneth not” [1 Kings 8:46], and the Scriptures will say, “All have sinned” [Romans 3:23], all of us, all of us! Well, what does it mean here?
It is a very simple thing that John wrote; a very simple thing. What he wrote was this: in the verbs of the Greek language and in the verbs of the Hebrew language – to us, all verbal form has to be expressed in tense; you can’t talk in the English language without tense, and there’s not a boy that’s been to school and learned grammar but that knows the tenses of the English verbal form, and he studies the tenses of the verbs, and you can’t speak in English without pigeonholing everything that you say or are saying – see the change in tense? – you can’t say it in English without pigeonholing it in tense, in time. But Hebrew is not that way. Greek is not that way. In the Hebrew and the Greek, the men spoke in kinds of action, and the verbs never referred to tense or time as such, but always described kinds of action. A thing was looked upon as “out there,” or “back there,” or “going on right now,” and what is translated as present indicative in our language, in the Greek language is the verb for continuous linear action, going on. And that is the verb that the apostle John uses here: hamartanein,” the infinitive, “he cannot continue on in sin because he is born of God” [1 John 3:9]. And the same thing in the verb above: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, doth not practice sin; for God’s seed is in him, the Holy Spirit of God is in him, and the Word of the Lord is in him!” Jesus said, “You are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” [John 15:3]. And there is a cleansing in the Word: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” [Psalm 119:11]. In a child of God, in a born again Christian, there is the Spirit of God, and there is the Word of the Lord, and these things make it impossible for a born again Christian to practice sin, to continue on, active, present, linear action; makes it impossible for the man to live in sin, to continue in sin! He cannot do it, he cannot! If you like the practice of sin, you like it, you enjoy it, you have married yourself to it, it’s a part of your way of life, it is a sure and certain sign that you are not saved! For the child of God who is born again cannot practice, cannot continue in sin; he cannot do it!
This prodigal boy, was he a sinner? He was. The Scriptures say that he wasted his substance with harlots, whores, prostitutes. Scriptures say that he wasted his life in riotous living, drunkenness and wantonness. But look! Look! Look! Which one of them is miserable and unhappy? That is the born again Christian! And the prodigal son said, “I am so miserable in this hog pen! I’m so miserable in this dirt and iniquity and filth and sin, I could die!” The prodigal boy said, “In my father’s house,” in God’s house, “there are menial servants who are happy, and I’m miserable! I could die!” You see, he’s a child of the Father. He’s born of the Father, and he’s miserable, and he’s unhappy, and he cries to God, and he says, “I’m going back! I’m going back!” [Luke 15:11-32].
Sweet people, I could not tell you the legions who have come down that aisle, have taken my hands – there’s hardly anything that feels like the feeling of hot tears falling on my hand – take my hand and say, “Pastor, I have drifted away. I have fallen afar off. I have, I have forsaken God! I have fallen into sin.” It happened this morning at the eight-fifteen service. It happens all the time. That is a sure sign that you’re born again! “I am miserable in this, I’m unhappy in this! I’m not right with God in this, and I’m coming back.” You can’t continue in it. You can’t practice it because you’re a child of God, and you can’t help that. No matter how you try to be happy and glad in it, you can’t because you’ve been born again.
In the prayer that – wasn’t it Richard? – in the prayer, he was thanking God for the latest decision of the Supreme Court concerning pornographic literature and salacious movies; where do those things come from? I was talking to an expert about it yesterday, and he said, “That reflects the sentiment of the modern American mind.” He said, “The great mass of American people love that! And the more salacious it is on television or in the movie house, the better they like it!” But if you are a born again Christian, you can’t like it. There’ll be something on the inside of you that in the dirt and the filth of the world, you’re unhappy, and you can’t help it; you’ve been born again, and you can’t continue in sin. That’s what the apostle said, after he’d been pastor of the church for maybe sixty years and is now in his old age, talking to his sheep.
We must hasten, and bear with me. He follows that with seven tests of the genuine Christian, and in each instance he introduces it, “If we say, if we say,” or, “He that saith,” seven times. Evidently, John lived with his people and loved his people and listened to them. So these are seven tests of the genuineness of the Christian faith. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth” [1 John 1:6]. The man who is a Christian likes to walk in the light. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” [1 John 1:8]. The man that says, “I’m a good man, as good as anybody else” – the Pharisee who prayed, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not like other men, not even like that publican down there” [Luke 18:11] – the child of God is a man who will be the first to admit that he’s a sinner, and that he needs saving, and that he needs Jesus, and the strong arm of God! How could Jesus ever be a Savior to a man who doesn’t need saving? Christianity begins when a man feels that he’s lost and can’t save himself. When the man says, “I don’t need a Savior, I haven’t sinned,” then he deceives himself.
All right. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His truth is not in us. For 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]. Number five: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself to walk, even as He walked” [1 John 2:6]. Sheldon, you know that marvelous book [he wrote], In His Steps, or What Would Jesus Do? A Christian man says, “Does this please God, what I’m doing? Is this right in God’s sight? I want to walk in the way of the Lord.” Number six: “He that says that he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness, even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in light, and there is not occasion of stumbling in him” [1 John 2:9-10]. That’s like that wonderful passage over here in [John] 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”
And then number seven: “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? And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also” [1 John 4:20-21]. That’s one of the tests of the genuineness of the faith: that you love the brethren, you love God’s people.
As most of you know, I was an undershepherd out in the country and in little village churches for ten years. And in one of those communities, there came to be a bitter feud between this man and this man, both of them in the church, over the boundary line between their two farms. And so bitter did that altercation continue through the years, through the years, that those men would do everything they could to despite the other man. And they taught their children to hate each other. They’d eat at the same table and never speak. Upon a day, upon a day, the Spirit of revival came in the church; God came down. And one of those men walked across the church to the other man and held out his hand, and said, “My brother! My brother! I have hated you for these years, I’ve taught my children to hate you, and I haven’t spoken to you for years and years. But my brother, I ask your forgiveness. I ask your forgiveness, and I extend to you my hand.” And that farmer looked into the face of his neighbor and said, “I ask you to forgive me.” He said, “Friend, you put that boundary anywhere you want to place it, and it’ll be fine with me. If it’s on this side of the creek, if it’s on that side of the creek, if it’s in the middle of the creek, you place the boundary, and it’ll be all right with me.” And there in the presence of God’s people, they embraced each other. It was electrifying! It was like revival itself!
That is a sign of a genuine child of God. To hate, to despise, to do disservice, to hurt is of the evil one; but to love, and to cherish, and to encourage, and to bless is a sign of the child of God. “I want to help, not hurt. I want to bless, and not be a stumbling block. I’ve got it in my heart because I’m saved. I’m a Christian.” That’s what it is to follow Jesus. Isn’t it remarkable how, out of the years of experience of this aged apostle, he speaks to us today like our undershepherd?
We stand in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing the song, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, giving your heart to the Lord, come. Putting your life in the fellowship of this dear church, come. If you’re on the topmost balcony in the topmost seat, there is time and to spare. Down a stairway, into the aisle, from anywhere, you, make the decision now and come, while we stand and while we sing.