“I Write Unto You, Young Men”
“I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” (1 John 2:14)
Young men, I want to speak to you concerning a fundamental aspect of spiritual warfare—what constitutes sin? There is incredible confusion on this point, and small wonder, since the enemy of our soul finds great advantage in convincing us that he has captured us when he hasn’t, and in convincing us that we are not captured by him when we are, and yet more advantage in keeping us in a state of confusion and uncertainty about the whole matter. It is my burden to help any who read this to understand better how to become or remain one of those who “have overcome the wicked one.”
First, let us examine some scriptures that address what we are held accountable for.
“Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” (John 9:41) “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin… If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” (John 14:22,24)
Our Lord teaches that knowledge and awareness gives accountability. “We see”; and Jesus had “spoken unto them,” and “done among them the works which none other man did.” They were accountable according to their exposure to truth. They were judged as sinners because of their response to the light that had been shown to them.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) “(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.)” (Romans 5:13) “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Romans 7:7)
The apostle Paul confirms that knowledge and awareness give accountability. “…for by the law is the knowledge of sin”; “sin is not imputed when there is no law”; “I had not known sin, but by the law.” Again, we are speaking of that which makes us guilty before God, and an awareness of the standard is required before accountability is fixed.
“A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (Titus 3:10-11) Is the “heretick” a sinner because he is honestly mistaken and holds to what is false and brings division? No, he is a sinner because he has gone against some light that he has—“being condemned of himself.” He has done something he knew in his heart was wrong.
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) It is at the point that we know a good thing we are to do, that it becomes a point of accountability, and if we don’t do it, we sin. Consider: from the age of twelve, Jesus knew something of His calling. For eighteen years the needs of a lost world were presented to His consciousness before He began to minister publicly. In Capernaum, there were many seeking Him and eager for His help, but He left. God had specific assignments of “doing good” for Him, and He has specific assignments for us. When we know what our assignment is, and don’t do it, that is sin.
Going on, let us consider some scriptures which address the subject of temptation and sin, and identify where a person is counted a transgressor.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Although it may seem obvious, it bears repeating that temptation is not sin. Jesus, our high priest, had our human “infirmities,” and was subject to temptation while down here. Do you think Jesus saw the devil standing in front of Him in an easily recognizable form when He was tempted in the wilderness? It says He “was in all points tempted like as we are.” Most people I know (including myself) are tempted from inside our minds, often very subtly (like the serpent), and sometimes by very aggressive evil and frightening thoughts (like a roaring lion).
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he started praying “O, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Mattehw 26:39) It was not sin for Jesus to have the feeling of wanting to avoid what was coming. It was not sin for Jesus to ask the Father if it would be possible to escape it, because He stayed submissive—asking, and submitting.
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27) Here we see some important distinctions. We have a human nature, subject to feelings, impressions, desires and reactions. It is not the feeling of anger that is sin, but what it can stir us to do, and how the devil can use it to gain an advantage. To let the “sun go down upon” something is to let it go unattended. One time I said to a pushy salesman, “I want to sleep on it,” referring to my desire to wait until the pressures of the moment were gone (including him) and for my feelings to wane so I could have time to soberly reflect. While there are many things that it is best to handle in this way, controlling wrath is not one of them. We are not to simply let our feelings of anger control us and direct us, and then “repent at leisure.” We must engage in spiritual warfare now, as soon as we realize we’re angry, and get as much help from God as we need to control ourselves and our reactions to do what is right.
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27) When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, something changed in their hearts—they no longer were eager for the Lord’s evening visit in the Garden. If we cross the boundary, there is evidence in our hearts—something has changed, and now there is “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.” It is when you stop resisting, stop struggling against the temptation, stop fighting, and “wilfully” do whatever the devil is trying to get you to do. It was not the considering whether to eat the fruit (though that was foolish and showed that Eve was in serious trouble), but eating it that brought the condemnation.
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law… Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him… Whosoever 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 3:4,6,9) “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
The picture of the process these scriptures show is vital to comprehend. A child of God doesn’t just accidentally sin, or suddenly sin; indeed “he cannot sin” while he is abiding in the Lord. But there is a process, a drawing away and enticing, until a “conception” occurs, where two things unite: the wrong thing that is presented and the will of the person tempted.
Finally, let us consider some scriptures which address the subject of growing in light. At one point I don’t know that something is wrong, but the Lord is teaching me that it is wrong; or, I think something is wrong, but the Lord is teaching me that it is acceptable in His sight.
“Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Corinthians 8:7-13)
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:17-23)
We see, first of all, how the Lord works with us in giving us light and understanding. We have a conception of right and wrong, and we are accountable according to that standard. At the same time, the Lord wants to improve our understanding, so that it is more accurate, releasing us from false standards and holding us to true ones. But He holds us accountable to our current understanding. Until we no longer doubt, but are convinced of the new standard, the old applies—“for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” We see by the context that the word “faith” here refers to the current place of the believer in their walk with God, encompassing the light and understanding they possess at the time. We also see again that God requires of us a love for others and their spiritual welfare: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” As it is written: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:13-14) Is it not more and more obvious how important it is to learn to recognize and respond to the Lord (in whatever way He is communicating to us) and recognize and reject the devil (in whatever way he is communicating to us)? It is not the Lord communicating to the weak brother when he decides that the knowledgeable brother must be doing the right thing, “so I’ll do it, too.” It is not the Lord communicating to the knowledgeable brother when he sees the weak brother and thinks that the important thing is his own liberty.
Young men, ask the Lord for clarity. Resist temptation! Don’t ever give up! Don’t let the devil persuade you that you’ve lost when you’re still fighting! If you have crossed a line, repent, and seek the Lord for forgiveness and power to live for Him! “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)