UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: What Does It Mean To ‘Practice’ Righteousness And Sin?

A brother and good friend of mine posted something on his Face Book page today, and it caused me a great deal of trouble — until after I had obeyed the Lord and written the second of a two-part post on the meanings of ‘The Word’ and TORAH.  Now I have an answer to the thing that troubled me as I read my friend’s post: ‘what does it mean to practice righteousness and sin?’  If you have a moment, I’d like to share the answer I was given with you.

Let me start by sharing the passage my brother posted:

1 John 3:3-10  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or [a]knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil [b]has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is [c]born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is [d]born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: [e]anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

Next, let me clearly state the issue that caused me so much trouble:

John, whom Jesus loved, appears to be telling us that anyone who sins practices sin, and therefore, is of Satan.  Only those who practice righteousness are of God.  However, Scripture also tells us that no one is righteous but God.  So, at first glance, it would appear as though John is telling us that no one is righteous, and therefore, no one is of God.  The natural conclusion from this is that no one is or will be saved.  However, Scripture tells us otherwise.  So, how do I resolve this conflict, and what does it mean for me, personally?

I must confess, this has bothered me for some time.  I know I sin.  I have several areas where I struggle greatly, and even when I am thinking of doing something I know I should not, and the Holy Spirit is telling me I am about to sin, I do it anyway.  So, when I read John’s words, I cannot explain the anguish I feel within me.  John seems to be telling me I do not really love Jesus, and that I am a sinner.  So what hope do I have?

Luckily, the Lord has set it on my heart to study His word and share what He reveals to me through my blogging.  As part of my studies, I have been studying the ancient Greek and Hebrew languages in which Scripture was originally written.  I have also been studying ancient Hebrew culture, so as to better understand Scripture by putting it closer to its proper context.  So, when I read my brother’s Face Book post this morning, I did not realize it, but the Lord was already helping me work out the answer to my struggles.

As I said, I wrote a two-part post on the fuller meaning of ‘The Word’ (logos) and the original meaning of TORAH.  Now, I offer this caution: these two posts are not for new believers.  Unless you understand what it means to ‘chew tough meat,’ I would suggest the reader seriously consider skipping those posts.  But the answer to the trouble in my heart over what ‘practice’ means was given to me this morning as I finished the second of the two-part post.  What’s more, the Lord also gave me a way to explain it that will not shake the faith of a new believer.

Regular readers will know that I stress the meaning of words quite frequently.  This is because many solutions to needless problems can be found in understanding what the words we use actually mean.  So, let’s look at the word, ‘practice:’

Full Definition of practice

Simple Definition of practice

  • : to do something again and again in order to become better at it

  • : to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life

  • : to live according to the customs and teachings of (a religion)

OK, so, using the definition above, what does it mean to ‘practice’ righteousness and sin?

Do I try to be better at sinning?  No!  I try to do better at being righteous.  So, in this way, I ‘practice’ righteousness, not sin.

Do I try to sin as a regular or normal part of my life?  No!  I know I sin, even when I do things that I do not realize are sins (we all do this: we see those things we recognize as sin, but then we do things that we do not realize are also sin, so we miss a great deal of the sin in our lives).  No, I try to make righteousness a routine in my life.  So, in this way, I ‘practice’ righteousness, not sin.

Do I live according to sin?  No!  I recognize sin and I reject it when I do — even as I catch myself doing it, I reject it.  At the same time, I try to live according to righteousness.  So, in this way, I ‘practice’ righteousness, not sin.

So, according to the definition of ‘practice,’ I do not ‘practice’ sin, but righteousness.  However, here is a word of warning:

It is not the same for someone who thinks they are practicing righteousness when they follow their own idea of right and wrong.  The only thing that is righteous is God and God’s Law (i.e. the narrow path).  Any deviation from this path is lawlessness, and, as John explains, sin and lawlessness are the same.  Therefore, no matter how ‘good’ a person may believe themselves to be, unless they are trying to follow God’s path, they are still lawless, and thus, they practice sin.

Now, I realize that, to human understanding, this sounds narrow-minded.  I am declaring that there is only one path to righteousness, and that this path is Jesus and only those who follow this path are ‘good.’  Well, yes!  That is exactly what I am saying, but then, it is not me who says this, but God, Himself.  I am merely defending the Word of God (i.e. logos).

Also, the believer still has to realize that this does not excuse our sin.  When we stray from the narrow path, we sin, and the price for sin is death!  So, even if we get back on the narrow path, we still deserve death — even if we only stray that one time!  This is where faith comes in to the equation.  We have to walk the narrow path by faith, focusing on staying on that path and trusting that the Lord will work out the rest.  We will all stray from the path (sin), and once we do, we are eternally tarnished: there is nothing we can do to wash away our guilt.  Only Jesus can do that, and that is where we have to place our faith/trust/hope.

If you have read and understood my two-part post of ‘The Word’ and TORAH, my language here is probably making even more sense to you.  You know I see Jesus, ‘the law’ and the narrow path as being the same things.  But even if you have not read those two posts, I pray you can see what it means to ‘practice’ sin vs. righteousness.  Also, remember that those who are lost (off the narrow path) cannot see that they are lost.  They see only their own desires.  So, if you can see and admit you are sinning, that is a good indication that you at least know where the narrow path is, and the directions for staying on it (the Lord’s commands).  If you care about staying on that narrow path, and following His directions for staying on it, even if you sin from time to time, you are practicing righteousness.  However, if you do not see the path or acknowledge His directions for getting on and staying on it, or even if you do see them but do not care to heed them, then you are practicing sin (lawlessness).

I hope this will help the reader.  I know it has helped me.  It has put my heart at ease.  It does not release me from working to stay on the path by following the Lord’s directions; it helps me to know which I practice: righteousness or sin.  I pray it will do the same for you.


3 thoughts on “UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: What Does It Mean To ‘Practice’ Righteousness And Sin?

  1. Works versus Grace. Only an opening of a comment. Those who know will understand.

    I’ll leave it there for the moment. Because I have good ‘faith” that you understand.

  2. Great post! So true regarding the difference between practicing righteousness or practicing sin.

    There are entire denominations today that practice their own version of what’s right and wrong. For example, the homosexual-affirming ones. To the world, such churches appeal to their sensitivities…such as emotions regarding “equality,” “inclusiveness,” “tolerance” etc. But what they don’t see is the eternal consequences of refusing to repent of their sins and encouraging others to do the same! Ugh… They are often the most difficult people to reach with the true Gospel of Christ.

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