4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
I have never really understood the vernacular of certain disciplines. Doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists are always practicing. Even though they are, by all definitions, masters and authorities of their own practice still they are continually practicing. Of course, there is a reason for this vernacular oddity. Medicine, law, psychiatry are not positions or things, they are pursuits. You practice them as you follow the discipline and pursue growth in your particular passion. This is of course very similar to our Christian lives. We are always practicing righteousness in our pursuit of Christ. We are essentially, practicing Christians. When we pursue Christ, righteousness is our goal. We may not pursue righteousness perfectly, in fact, we will likely struggle and fail to a great extent. The goal is that at the end of the day we still desire to be right before God no matter what our failures have been. It is the underlying desire that guides our hearts and defines us as practicing Christians.
In 1st John we see a distinction made between two different types of “Christians”. There are the people who say they are Christians and they try to grow and do the right thing. They don’t do it right all the time, maybe they even mess up on a daily basis, but they always come back to confessing to God and trying to fight their sin nature. Then there is the second type of person. This person also says they are a Christian. They live in their sin but they don’t really mind it. They are not particularly interested in changing. The latter is the type that becomes a problem. A Genuine Christian who is in pursuit of Christ is going to sin, they are going to fail, and they are going to do it on a regular basis. This is not the same thing as abiding in sin though. John says that the person who “abides” in Christ does not continue on practicing sin. The idea that is assumed with “practicing sin” then is that sin is the passion, preoccupation, and pursuit of that person. Their sin is the most important thing in their life. The person who abides in Christ has the passion, pursuit, and practice of following Christ. Their goal is not to pursue sin it is to pursue Christ. We may fail and struggle, but in the end, the passion of a Christian’s heart is to pursue God.
This might be a little confusing and it may lead to some people saying, “Well… I sin so does that mean I am not a genuine Christian?” The point that John is trying to make is not that the Christian life is a continuous and uninterrupted march towards perfect godliness. If this were true, we would all be in a great deal of trouble. The difference between a genuine Christian and a disingenuous Christian is that the genuine Christian is uncomfortable with sin. The genuine Christian who abides in Christ and pursues Christ will not simply ignore sin in their lives. They will be convicted by the Holy Spirit, they will be broken hearted by their sin, and they will be compelled to address it. This is because living in Christ and living in sin are both mutually exclusive. If we sin, that simply tells us that we are human, if we don’t care about our sin; this tells us whether we really trust in Christ to save of from sin. If we don’t care about sin, then how deep can our conviction be that we need saving from our sin. If we don’t recognize our brokenness as brokenness, then we will never recognize our savior. To put it most succinctly, the Christian life is not recognized by perfection, it is recognized by caring and fighting to deal with sin. It is this idea that helps us to recognize the statement of the Apostle Paul.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. -2 Timothy 4:7–8
Our righteousness is not achieved in life, it is pursued in life. It is achieved when we recognize Jesus as the savior that we so desperately need, and we respond to Him.