The Great Controversy and the Sin of Unbelief

In order to have victory over sin, we must properly define sin. I believe the sin defined in John 16:9 is the cause of the sin in 1 John 3:4. Thus we must deal with the sin of unbelief in John 16:9 as our primary definition of sin.

As we take a look at this week’s lesson on victory over sin, I have a question.  For years we as Adventists have used1 John 3:4 as our primary definition of sin which is transgression of the law. How would things change if John 16:9 was the primary definition of sin, which is unbelief?

With 1 John 3:4 as the primary definition we see God kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden and giving them a death sentence because they ate one piece of fruit they were told not to. That is not unbiblical but it is only half the  story and, more importantly, half the picture of God’s character. With John 16:9 as our primary definition of sin we see Adam and Eve placing their trust in Satan’s lies and not believing in God’s word. Thus they themselves turn their backs on God and forfeit their home through unbelief, thus breaking their relationship with God in favor of the really cool serpent and fancy lies.

With 1 John 3:4 as the primary definition of sin we struggle with John 3:16 and wonder where works come in.  With John 16:9 as our primary definition, we see that God gave His Son to die for us and show us the truth about God’s love. Thus as we believe in Him, we turn our backs on Satan’s lies, our relationship is restored and we have the eternal life that was originally planned in the Garden of Eden. We are now free to obey God, and the secondary definition of sin in 1 John 3:4 is fulfilled because we now trust God and therefore we trust His commandments.

Paul’s book of Hebrews is on the sanctuary and even the cleansing of the sanctuary.  In Hebrews 10:26 Paul writes, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Now if we use 1 John 3:4 as the primary definition of sin we have people going to hell because they made one mistake after knowing the truth. We recognize that the entire book of Hebrews is explaining why Jesus has not returned yet and what He is doing in the sanctuary before His return. Paul admonishes the early believers not to give up their faith and stop assembling together. Christ will return. So I am sure the primary definition of sin in Hebrews 10:26 is the sin of unbelief. Paul is not saying that if you break the law after knowing the truth there is no more forgiveness. He is saying that if we sin by not believing in Jesus as the Son of God there will be no other sacrifice or Savior.

Now as we look at the cleansing of the Sanctuary in Daniel 8:14, we see that while God can and does give complete victory over the sin defined in 1 John 3:4, that still is not the main focus or goal of the cleansing of the sanctuary. “Our characters are not to be weighed by smooth words and fair speeches manufactured for set times and occasions; but by the spirit and trend of the whole life.” (Review and Herald August 16, 1892) “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.“ (Steps to Christ 57.2)  If we take John 16:9 as the primary definition of sin in the cleansing of the sanctuary it changes things.  In the cleansing of the Sanctuary our minds and hearts (where the real sanctuary is) are cleansed from the lies mankind started believing in the Garden of Eden. We see the true character of God revealed on the cross and we believe in Him. When our minds are cleansed of Satan’s lies we can make intelligent choices and choose the One who has already accepted and chosen us all along.

This changes how we look at a popular passage in the Spirit of Prophecy. “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.”  (Christ Object Lessons 69.1)  Traditionally  we have taken this passage to mean that once we get our act together and show the world God’s Word can perfectly be obeyed without making one single mistake, then God will come back to take us home. It is true by God’s grace we can have complete victory over every single sin. However that is not what the great controversy is all about. The great question in the great controversy is whether God’s character is love or not. When God’s church perfectly reflects the character of God’s love, then the world can make an intelligent decision as to if they will believe in God’s love or not.  God does not want us to be perfect so we can go to heaven. He wants to be perfectly loving so that we will be proper witnesses in the judgment, where His character is on trial. When the church perfectly appreciates God’s love, the chasm that we ourselves created by believing Satan’s lies will be healed.

I believe that if we keep 1 John 3:4 as our primary definition of sin then we will always be legalists and never be able to deal with the sin problem defined in John  16:9. But if we use John 16:9 as the primary definition of sin, we lose the legalism, grasp the big picture of what sin really is and what the great controversy is all about, and we allow grace to do its work in healing the sin problem defined in both John 16:9 and 1 John 3:4. We can only truly obey God’s commandments when we truly believe in His love. When we believe in His love, the spirit of sin and rebellion will be gone.



The Great Controversy and the Sin of Unbelief — 17 Comments

  1. Amen! Amen! Amen! Saint. May our Almighty Father bless you dearly, abundantly, exceedingly that you may continue to be a blessing unto many just as you have blessed me this morning.

    This is righteousness by faith at its best! We do not know God because we do not know what sin is. We aught to make a distinction between sin and the manifestations of sin or sinful acts or what Paul calls works of the flesh: sin is unbelief-outright rejection of God's will. Will like to get more from you. Shalom! Shalom! Shalom!

  2. Before sin there was no stated outline of the law, if man had just believed God 1 John 3:4 would not be necessary. Now we can see the point Jesus made in Matthew 22:38-40. It is very clear that God is not so focused on how perfect we can keep the commandment, instead He is focus on if we believe that he loves us and want the best for us. Then and only then we will truly love him and obey him.

  3. Thank you. My knowledge has deepened and the eyes of my understanding have been opened. May the Lord be praised for this. God bless you brother.

  4. I have liked the article above. I have dealt with the same issue before. I would however want to suggest that the is a major problem in using John 16:9 as the primary definition for sin. By definition sin is the transgression of the law. The same scripture of John 16:9 is used by the pentecostal world to wash down the Decalogue (the law of love). While the suggestion might sound very interesting and plausible. The implications have great effect in what we stand for as adventist.
    We should always address the subject of the law as God's love to humanity because the law is for the protection of humanity.

  5. This have been such an educating lesson well put and understandable.All my quiries have been addresed about being legalist, i now have the corect understanding- that it is loving God and believing him that comes first before we can be able to keep his commandments.

  6. Amen! my insight on 'what is sin?' has been sharpened and presented in a new light like I have never experienced before....God bless you.

  7. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts and ideas about this week's lesson.

    Kudzai, I identify with and appreciate your concern. At the same time, just because some missuse a text does not mean that we should not properly use it. Properyly used, John 16:9 tells us that when the Spirit removes the sin of unbelief that the Spirit of misstrust and rebellion is removed so that we can keep the ten commandments. There are other Bible texts too defining sin, but they all come down to the root of unbelief in God's love.

    Happy Sabbath everyone!

  8. Romans 13:10 (KJV)
    10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

    And there's only one way to love: die to self.

    1 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)
    1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

    When we learn to love the ungodly, we will be keeping the law. We can keep the law in terms of obedience but that doesn't mean we have any love in our hearts. When we have God's love in our hearts, we will keep His commandments too. We won't know it because our focus will be on Jesus, not ourselves.

  9. Thank you for this wonderful study. Until now, when I was asked to define sin, I responded with "transgression of the law". But seeing sin as rooted in disbelief, makes it so much clearer for me.
    transgression is the behavior stemming from the heart of disbelief.
    Happy Sabbath.

  10. That is an artifact of the KJV. Other translations say "sin is lawlessness", which at once makes sense to me, and ties in even more with your point.

  11. Thank you everyone for sharing. Thank you for making that point Andrew. It is the same in Hebrews 4 where some versions say they did not enter the promised land because of "unbelief" while other versions say becuase of their disobedience. Yes, it all ties in together. When we don't believe in God's love we disobey. When we believe in His love we obey.

  12. This particular lesson study is like a fresh cup of cold water for a thirsty soul.....I thank my Lord through the Holy Spirit for helping me understand what sin is defined by 1 John 3:4....May the Lord Jesus bless you more than you can possibly can stand by His grace....Amen!

  13. Sin got its start on Planet Earth when Eve committed the sin of unbelief by not believing what God had told her, "in the day that you eat of it you shall surly die (Gen 2:17). As a result the entire human race became slaves to sin. But by an outstretched arm (on the cross) Jesus FREED US from slavery (Duet 5:15;Ex 20:2). And if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed (Jn 8:36). But we need to BELIEVE it! We need to believe that we ARE FREE WHEN WE ACCEPT Jesus' sacrifice and the free gift of God's grace. We need to believe that God STILL LOVES US even when we fail and that He forgives us when we sincerely ask Him to(1 Jn 1:9). Even 70 X 7 times (Math 18:22)! And we need to believe that He will finish the work He has begun in us because he said so (Phil 1:6). And we need to believe that He IS ABLE to do what He says HE CAN DO including writing His commandments of love on our hearts and minds (Heb 10:16). He IS ABLE because He is Almighty God who makes things out of nothing! What is impossible for us to do by our own strength, He CAN DO (Math 19:26)! So believe it and truly experience a Sabbath day's rest!


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