Jesus' demolition project

The Bible is full of one-liners. These little sentences can be pithy, profound, or just sum up what was said in the preceding paragraphs. They can also be extremely easy to remove from their surrounding context. It’s easy to do this because they’re so good on their own! But there are two challenges with this approach. The first is that, removed from their context, it can be easy to twist or misunderstand the meaning of the one-liner itself. [This is the point in the blog post where I could go on a long tirade about false teachers, the importance of studying the Word of God on your own, etc. etc. But that’s not what we’re going to do today.]

The second challenge in removing our favorite Biblical one-liners from their context is more subtle. One sentence can say a lot–but on its own, it can only say so much. Quite often, these “one-liners” are an important part of a much larger thought. When we allow them to take their proper place in that thought, they can be filled with a deeper meaning than they ever could on their own.

What’s an example of one of these one-liners? Let’s take a look at one that hit me in a new way just last night.

Jesus likes to destroy things

In 1 John 3:8, we find a delightful little one-liner that portrays Jesus as a demolition contractor:

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

On its own, this scripture does a lot. It paints a picture of the spiritual war that’s happening around us. Jesus is shown breaking onto the scene as a conquering warrior–or maybe a subversive rebel?–who has undermined and overturned the evil overlord. It’s a triumphant passage. Yeah! Go, Jesus!

Jesus demolishes Satan's work just like this guy is demolishing this building.

But why was John telling us about this reason for Jesus’ coming? Well, we’ve got to read the context for that. So let’s do that. But when you read the context, try to read the preceding verse as a part of that context. That is, ask the question “how does this verse continue or develop the thought that is being expressed in this passage?”

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. 1 John 3:4-10

Jesus wants you to destroy things, too

When we read these verses, a few things start to happen. First, we can start to define what “the devil’s work” is. Right there in the preceding sentence, it says “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” So we see that “the devil’s work” is to sin–to choose to violate God’s commands and define his own version of right and wrong. Sin is what Satan does (see John 8:44 too), and sin is what Jesus came to destroy.

But even beyond this, these verses answer that question of “why is this verse here in the first place?” We see that Jesus’ redemptive demolition project is a key point in the argument that we should not continue to sin. Look at verse 4:

“But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Or consider verse 9:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them, they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

You’ll know if you read the rest of 1 John that these verses aren’t saying that Christians must be perfectly sinless (see in particular 1:5-2:3). But they are saying that Christians must not lives that are characterized by continual, unrepentant sin. To John, it’s very simple. Sin is from the devil, while righteousness is from God. If we are to follow Jesus, then we will (and must) purge ourselves from the deeds of our former father (the devil) and replace them with the deeds of our new father (God). And not without help! For now, “God’s seed” remains in us, and “he appeared so that he might take away our sins.” We have supernatural help in this supernatural battle.

In effect, our one-liner is a rallying call to join Jesus in his demolition project. Just as Jesus set out to destroy the devil’s work, so should we. In a crowded city, a large building has to be destroyed before another one can rise in its place. In the same way, let us decide to join Jesus in his mission to demolish any sin that can be found in our life.