Imitating Christ’s Righteousness

Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021

“… 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. … 6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. 7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil…” 

1 John 3:1-10

Christ is holy and righteous. John says, “in him is no sin” (1 Jn 3:5). Peter says, He “did no sin” (1 Pet 2:22). Paul says, He “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21). The apostle to the Hebrew declares that He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). 

Now, we are to be followers and imitators of Christ. But how can we, as sinners, imitate Him who has no sin and could not sin? Should we even try? Should we not rather simply rejoice in the fact that we are justified by faith and accepted as righteous in God’s sight? 

The apostle John gives us a rather profound answer in our text. In the first place, he insists that those who are righteous in Christ will do righteousness. 

1. The Righteous Will Do Righteousness 

Christ is righteous, but as Paul reminds us, He was made sin so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). He is referring to justification. Our guilt is imputed to Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to us, so we are righteous in God’s sight. In this divine scheme, we are legally righteous while actually sinners.  

But as John makes it clear, no one united to Christ by faith continues to sin. Verse 6—“Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.”  

The point is that if you truly abide in Christ by faith, you will not sin. If you sin, you have not seen Him or known Him.  

Or as he puts it in verse 7—“let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” In other words, don’t be misled into thinking that it is possible for one who is justified or righteous in Christ to do unrighteousness. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous,” or conversely, he that is righteous does righteousness, even as Christ is righteous.  

But how can this be? How can it be that those who are justified in Christ sin not? Does not John also say, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8)?  

The answer is found in the fact that John is talking about the new nature. This new nature does not sin. But the problem is we are not wholly renewed yet. There is still a remnant of the old man or a remnant of corruption in us.  

Why, then, does John says, “whosoever abideth in [Christ] sinneth not”? Because it is true! If you abide in Christ, you will not sin. The reality is that you don’t always abide in Christ.  

I know a somewhat eccentric seminary professor. When you attend his class, you must be appropriately attired with a tie, and you must be on time, or you will get a dressing down and be barred from the class. Now, if you attend his class, you will hear and understand that a student WILL BE punctual and properly attired. Well, I suppose if you encounter an accident along the way to class and you use your tie as a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding of a severely injured man, and you wait for the ambulance to arrive, and so you come late, and without a tie, you will be permitted in. But you know that ordinarily, no student is to arrive late and without a tie.  

So it is with anyone who abides in Christ. He cannot sin. He hates sin. He does not want to sin. He does not sin. He does righteousness even as Christ is righteous. That’s his new nature. It’s his new inclination as one who is united to Christ. Such is the nature of the righteous. 

Nevertheless, the old man can be pretty stubborn. He will try to hold you back from following Christ. So you need encouragements. John offers two, one positive and the other negative. 

Consider first the positive. 

2. The Righteous Is Motivated by Hope 

John says in verse 2, “we know that, when he [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”  

That is to say, everyone, except those who are spiritually dead, will struggle with sin. Sometimes the temptation to give in to the flesh and to give up following Christ can be intense.  

Why do we press on in the narrow way? We press on not only because we have a new nature, but because gratitude demands that if Christ died for our sin, we must eschew sin. But what do we do when the goings get tough?   

In the 1950s, a scientist with John Hopkins University, Curt Richter, did a series of experiments. In the first experiment, he put wild rats in jars half filled with water. Rats are good swimmers, but they all drowned in about 15 minutes. In the follow-up experiment, Mr Richter let the rats swim until they were about to drown, then he fished them out, dried them, and let them rest for a while before putting them back into the water. How long did the rats last this time? Average 60 hours! Hope is a strong motivator. 

Is it not true with us too? If you run long distances, you may sometimes get the feeling. There comes a point when you will feel like slowing down or even walking. You may even give up altogether if you feel you are not going to reach your destination. What will persuade you to keep running? Well, amongst other things, what will keep you running is the knowledge that the end is in sight and there is refreshment at the end. I used to run from my place to West Coast Park while my wife cycled there. I hate running in the hot sun. What kept me running most times despite the heat? It’s the thought that it will be over shortly, and my wife will be waiting in MacDonald’s with a big cup of coke! 

What will keep us running the Christian race? What will keep us seeking to be pure and holy as Christ is pure and holy? John says, “every man that hath this hope in [Christ] purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” What is this hope? It is the hope that we will be like Christ: pure and holy, with no more struggles against sin as we enjoy and glorify God forever.  

We don’t give up because we know that it is only if we don’t give up that we will attain that hope! Remember that the Christian life is like riding a bicycle. Either you keep paddling, or you will keel over. Only those who persevere to the end will have the desires of their hearts met. Thus, hope motivates us to keep looking at Jesus and seeking to imitate Him to be righteous as He is righteous.  

That’s the positive encouragement. What about the negative? 

3. The Righteous Is Constrained by Fear 

Every Christian will want to be like Christ. If you have no desire to be like Christ, something is wrong with you. Therefore, if you are told that doing something will make you unlike Christ, won’t you be afraid to do it? 

John says, verse 8—“He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” And verse 10—“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.”  

To do not righteousness is to sin. To sin is to be like the devil. How can any Christian sin lightly? How can any Christian not repent of His sin and cease from sin as soon as he realises he has fallen into sin? A Christian who persists in sin will be spitting on the face of Christ even as He claims to be a disciple of Christ. If this reality does not provoke you to repentance and keep you from sin, then you have just proven yourself to be a child of the devil. 


O brother or sister in Christ, seek to imitate Christ in His righteousness! Do so in gratitude, love and hope that you will one day be freed from sin. And may the fear of being more like Satan than Christ keep you from persisting in sin. Amen. 

—JJ Lim