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The First Epistle of John (4)

(Chapter 3:1-16)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (verses 1,2 N.I.V.).
These verses remind us of the opening ones of the Gospel, 'He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God -- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God' (John 1:11-13). These statements clearly show that the popular idea that everyone is a child of God from natural birth is not true. A second birthday, a spiritual one, is necessary to come into God's family. Only those who 'received Him' by faith had this tremendous privilege and when they responded in this way, they were 'born of God' and commenced the new life in His family. This fundamental lesson Nicodemus had to learn, for Christ said to him 'you must be born again' (John 3:3-8). Till then human beings, though they are much alive physically, are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:4,5).

Now, which means the present time, we, as believers in Christ, are His children. We can look to God and call Him Father, realizing that He will be to us all that a father should be. He is the perfect Father Who loves His children and looks after them every step of the way to the final glory, when we shall be like Him, and see Him as He is. We cannot yet comprehend fully what this really means, for our minds are too small. But when His glory is at last manifested, then will be the fulness of our experience, for we shall share in this overwhelming glory and be with Him where He is now highly exalted, and where God sees us positionally enthroned with Him (Eph. 2:5,6). This is wonderfully made known in the apostle Paul's prison ministry relating to the Body of Christ, which then becomes the Temple which He is now building as an eternal home for Himself (Eph. 2:19-22).

Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (verse 3).

"Hope in Him" means 'hope set on Him' Who is the pure one, and this cannot but have a purifying effect in the life of the one who so hopes. The apostle Paul expresses this in the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18, 'And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, Who is the Spirit'. This is the preparation for the day when the transformation will be consummated in resurrection glory, and we become completely like Him in every way.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (verse 4).

It is not merely breaking a commandment of God, but a general lawless attitude towards God. It is rebellion against God and results in the practising of sin, which is the opposite of practising righteousness as described by John in 2:29 -- 'everyone who does what is right has been born of Him'.

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 (verses 5,6).

The present active participle (poion), translated 'whosoever committeth sin', in the A.V. of verse 4, means the habit of doing sin. This is of great importance and is not made clear in the A.V. which can lead to misunderstanding and difficulties. First of all John stresses the sinlessness of the Son of God, for no one who sins can take away and remove his sins by his own efforts, or remove the sins of others. But the Lord Jesus as the sinless One was manifested to take away the sins of all those who trust in Him, by bearing them Himself on calvary's cross and paying the penalty for them. His sinlessness and holy nature is repeatedly stated in the New Testament -- (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 9:13,14).

The word 'sinneth' in verse six (A.V.) is again the present tense which means 'does not keep on sinning', 'does not live a life of sin', not mere occasional acts of sin. Hence the N.I.V. is correct in its rendering, 'no one who lives in Him keeps on sinning', and John continues by saying no one who does this has either seen Christ or known Him. Such a sinful life does not mark a child of God and anyone who leads such a life cannot be one.

It should be noted that the apostle does not assert that it is impossible for a believer to commit an occasional act of sin. He has already stated that provision has been made by God for such a case by confession and the activity of the Lord Jesus as His people's Advocate (1:9; 2:1), and has warned against claims to be sinless (1:8,10). But living a life of sin is quite different and such prove that they do not know the Saviour and His salvation.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. He 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 (verses 7,8).

The apostle once more warns believers about straying from the truth of God. Truth and error are for ever opposed. The former is headed by Christ and the latter by Satan and his dupes, which included gnostic charmers of John's day who could attract people. The test was outward and clear. He that 'keeps on doing righteousness' (again the present active participle) is 'righteous' (see 1:6 and 3:4 for similar usage of poieo). Conversely, 'he that keeps on doing sin' (the habit of sin) is of the devil (ek tou diabolou). The preposition ek is used many times by John with the sense of origin. He uses it no less than one hundred and fifty-one times in his Gospel, and thirty times in this first Epistle. Just as there are two opposing personalities in the Scriptures, God and Satan, there are two families proceeding from each which maintain this opposition.

At the very beginning in Genesis these two seeds are revealed by God, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the devil (Gen. 3:15). These were to persist and the parable of the tares and the true wheat makes this clear (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-42). It is not until the second advent of Christ and the establishment of His earthly kingdom, that the angels of God separate them and then the tares are destroyed. There is not one occasion in the Word of God where tares are changed into true wheat. These families or seeds are for ever opposed, and the recognition of the Scriptural fact of these two seeds throws light on the problems of sin and Satanic opposition to the redemptive plan of God. And as part of the Satanic delusion, his family can be found among religious people. Christ warned the Pharisees that although they could claim physical descent from Abraham, actually they originated from Satan. They were 'of (ek) that wicked one' (John 8:44), and Satan was their father (verses 41 and 44). They belonged to his family.

These two forever opposing companies are manifest by their actions. The true seed keep on doing righteousness, but the evil Satanic seed keep on doing sin. When a person persistently acts like Satan, it shows he is not a true child of God. The work of the Lord Jesus Christ was not only to save the true seed that had become involved in sin and death, but also to destroy the enemy and his seed. The final realization of the kingdom of God in the new heaven and earth will mean the removal and destruction of all that opposes and offends, otherwise its glorious realization will be impossible (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

No-one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has 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 a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (verses 9,10).

In these verses we must continue to note the force of the present tense, otherwise we shall be in great difficulties and be confronted with a statement that is unscriptural and therefore not true. The Authorised Version of verse 9 reads:

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.

But this is not true to the teaching of this epistle and other parts of Scripture, nor is it true to experience. In the first chapter, John has dealt with the case of a believer sinning and God's provision for this. When we note the full force of the present tense which is recognized by the N.I.V., the difficulty clears up.

No one born of God continues to sin (keeps on sinning). He cannot go on doing this because God has implanted his divine nature in him (see 2 Pet. 1:3,4), and this nature, being from God, is holy. There is therefore conflict between this new nature and the old nature contaminated by sin (Gal. 5:16,17). Note Paul's experience which he described in Romans 7, which shows this to be true. The fact that this seed, implanted by God with the power of the Holy Spirit behind it, makes it impossible for the believer to live continually in sin. He does not have the habit of sin. This is a more satisfactory explanation than to make the 'seed' mean the offspring 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 a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (verse 10).

Acting rightly may appear legislative, but John adds brotherly love, which transforms it. For him righteousness and love are inseparable, as they are inseparable in the character of God. Paul's summary in Romans 13:9,10 is a striking illustration of this, and the reader should check it and weigh it over.

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.' (verses 11,12).

John illustrates his teaching on love by reference to Cain and his attitude to his brother Abel. Though they were brothers it is clear that these two were in two separate classes. One was subject to God and His truth, the other ignored it, hence their actions were entirely different. Cain's philosophy, his outlook, his bloodless theology, led to jealousy of his brother Abel. And the unregenerate world of John's day down to the present time is no different, so it is not surprising that the unbeliever hates the believer in Christ and all He stands for.

Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you (verse 13).

This reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus which John has recorded in his Gospel:

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:18-20).

The unbelieving world and its system energized by Satan, is definitely anti-God, so it is not surprising that the Lord Jesus and those who faithfully follow Him, are unpopular. But in contrast to the unregenerate world:

We (emphatic) know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him (verses 14,15).

John contrasts the two classes; the practical results from each are absolute opposites. We must take great care not to be deceived by the word 'love' as the world uses the term, which means no more than emotion, feeling and sex. The love of God is characterized by a steady denial of self in the interest of others. It is entirely selfless and constantly spends itself for the benefit of other people. Thus it can never injure others like jealousy and murder do, and the absence of it shows the absence of eternal life.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (verse 16).

Again this reminds us of the Lord's words in the Gospel:

Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

The apostle Paul also wrote in Ephesians 5:2, '... Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us ...'. One may give away a fortune, but giving oneself is much greater, for one cannot give more than this. To give oneself is to give everything. This is true love, and the Lord Jesus is the supreme example of it.


Edited on April 13, 1997 / Updated on April 13, 1997
The Alachua Freenet does not endorse or disendorse the content of this document. Everything is the author's private opinion.
Location: http://www.afn.org/~leo/be_1_john_4.html
Contact: Leo Wierzbowski / leo@afn.org

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