John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace,” is also famous for saying ““Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” This great quote reminds us of our sin, our Savior, and our need for sanctification.
SIN 1 John 3:4
Before we can get to God’s amazing grace, have to confront our awful sin. John said, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness and sin is lawlessness. We can learn a few things about sin here.
First, we learn that we can make a practice of sin. Practicing sin is different than committing sin. All of us have sinned (Rom 3:23). Each of us will continue to sin. 1 John 1:8 teaches us that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” To make a practice of sinning is the opposite of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7).
Sin, that we all commit, was then described as lawlessness. This is more consequential even than just anarchy. This lawlessness entails: 1) the rejection of the divine order; 2) the rejection of God’s law; and 3) the rejection of God as the Sovereign. Perhaps this explanation helps us to see why sin is so serious and demands such harsh consequences. Sin, in the final analysis, is the rejection of God. Calvin commented that “The Apostle has already shewn how ungrateful we must be to God, if we make but little account of the honour of adoption, by which he of his own good-will anticipates us, and if we do not, at least, render him mutual love.”
SAVIOR 1 John 3:5
Sin provides the dark night against which the Savior’s loving work might shine at its brightest. The sin we have committed has been removed by our Savior’s appearing.
First, note that he appeared. The word “appeared” implies perhaps the pre-existence of the Son. The Greek word ἐφανερώθη has to do with making something known. The Son did not begin to be at the incarnation. Instead, the Son was revealed at the incarnation. The nature of God was revealed through his life. The love of God was revealed at the cross. The power of God was revealed in the resurrection. The way to God was revealed at the ascension.
Then notice that he appeared for a purpose: “to take away sins.” The word translated “take away” ἄρῃ, usually means to lift up and remove. It is the same word which was used to describe Jesus’ body being taken away in John 19:31, 38; 20:2, 13, and 15. Perhaps we are to make the connection between Jesus’ body being lifted up and taken away from the cross and the sins which the cross has taken away. As John the Baptist said, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).
This is the way we should view our sins—taken away. They are taken away from our record and taken away from our view. Our sins are gone, and sin is gone to us. Paul said, “so you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).
We also see another glimpse of how sin was removed. John said, “in him there is no sin” (1 Jn 3:5). Just like an air conditioner pushes all the hot air away, Christ’s appearance has pushed sin away from his people. Athanasius, a fourth century theologian, said that Christ’s crucifixion on the cross sanctified the air because of his presence. Gregory of Nazianzus said, “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half of Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole” (“To Cledonius” Ep. 101). Calvin said, “Wherever Christ diffuses his efficacious grace, he denies that there is any more room for sin.” Wherever Christ has gone, sin is gone.
SANCTIFICATION 1 John 3:6
Since sin has been put away, we must keep it away. John exhorts us when he says, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 Jn 3:6). Christians are “in Christ,” and cannot continue in sin. If we continue in sin, perhaps we never really understood the supremacy of Christ, or we have forgotten the supremacy of Christ. Something has gone horribly wrong when we pursue sin rather than the Savior. Didymus the Blind, in his commentary, said, “For how can someone act unrighteously when he is in the company of righteousness, and how can he be content to place corruption alongside holiness?”
Paul preached “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, the two will become one flesh. But he who is joined. To the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:15-18). In Colossians 3:5, Paul said, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.”
Sanctification is not just about putting sin away. Sanctification also includes the pursuit of holiness. We are to “be transformed in the renewal of your minds.” In Philippians 4:8 Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Our Great Savior
We have awful sin, but we have an awesome Savior. Sinners can be saved! Christians are saved! Salvation is possible because the Savior appeared. Salvation is even greater still because the Savior is coming back to bring us home to glory. How can we keep from sin and keep going toward Christ? Love him. Augustine said, “How can we avoid sin? By keeping the commandment of Christ. And what is that commandment? It is that we should love. Love, and sin is undone. Ten Homilies on 1 John 5.2.
 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 207.
 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 209.
 Gerald Bray, ed., James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 197.
 Ten Homilies on 1 John 5.2.