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.