3:1 (See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him.
See Jn 1:12
How great = ‘of what country’: where does it come from? It is not a native of this planet; it is ‘out of this world’. Note John’s astonishment and admiration. Let us never take for granted the love of God.
Children of God – we are not simply called children of God, we are children of God. The enemy of souls might whisper doubts and unbelief might have heeded these doubts. Luther was once asked, ‘Do you feel that you are a child of God this morning?’ He answered, ‘I cannot say that I do, but I know that I am.’
Children of God and Sons of God. Paul calls Christians ‘sons for God’, Rom 8:14; Gal 3:26; 4:6-7. Paul, Rom 8:16, and John, here and in his Gospel, calls them ‘children of God’. ‘In using the word “son” Paul has at the back of his mind the idea of adoption in Roman law, so that the word emphasises the thoughts of legal right and privilege. In the word “children” the idea emphasised is that of the actual communication of the life of God to the soul’ (Ross).
‘Central in John’s first epistle are the thoughts of sonship as the supreme gift of God’s love (1 Jn 3:1); of love to the Father, 1 Jn 2:15; cf. 1 Jn 5:1-3; and to one’s Christian brothers, 1 Jn 2:9-11; 3:10-17; 4:7,21 as the ethic of sonship; of fellowship with God the Father as the privilege of sonship, 1 Jn 2:13,23f; of righteousness and avoidance of sin as the evidence of sonship, 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9f; 5:18; and of seeing Jesus, and being like him, as the hope of sonship, 1 Jn 3:3.’ (Packer, Knowing God, 228).
Know = understand, comprehend, acknowledge. The world does ot recognise us or our Master for what we really are. See 1 Cor 2:14; Jn 1:10.
Are we prepared to be identified with Christ in being misunderstood and misrepresented?
‘According to the Scriptures, pardon, acceptance, and adoption, are distinct privileges, the one rising above the other in the order in which they have been stated . . . while the first two properly belong to (the sinner’s) justification, as being both founded on the same relation—that of a Ruler and Subject—the third is radically distinct from them, as being founded on a nearer, more tender, and more endearing relation—that between a Father and his Son. . . . There is a manifest difference between the position of a servant and a friend—and also between that of a servant and a son. . . . A closer and dearer intimacy than that of a master and servant is said to subsist between Christ and His people: “Henceforth I call you not servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends” (John 15:15); and a still closer and dearer relation is said to exist in consequence of adoption; for “Thou art no more a servant, but a son, and an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:7). The privilege of adoption presupposes pardon and acceptance, but is higher than either; for, “To as many as received Him, to them gave he power”—not inward strength, but authority, right, or privilege—“to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). This is a higher privilege than of Justification, as being founded on a closer and more endearing relation—“Behold! what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1)’ (James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification)
3:2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. 3:3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure).
There is much that we do not know about the future, because it has not been revealed, Deut 29:29. But Scripture does give us hints as to the future state:-
- We will shine like the sun in the Father’s kingdom, Mt 13:43;
- We will be with Christ, and see his glory, Jn 17:24;
- We will share in Christ’s glory, Rom 8:17;
- We will see his face, and reign for ever and ever, Rev 22:4-5.
Here we are taught that we shall be like him:-
- God purposed this from all eternity, Rom 8:29.
- This transformation was begun at regeneration, Eph 4:24;
- It continues throughout our earthly pilgrimage, 2 Cor 3:18.
- It will be completed when ‘he’ (or ‘it’) ‘appears’, and we ‘see him’.
Note the connection between our present and our future condition, the known and the unknown. The one (‘we are children of God’) guarantees the other.
Like him indicates physical resurrection, and also purity, v3, sinlessness, v5, and righteousness, v7. The reason given for this change is that ‘we shall see him as he is’.
I am not what I was, Ephesians 2:2-12
I am not what I shall be, 1 John 3:2
I am not what I should be, Ephesians 4:1
I am not what I desire to be, Philippians 3:12f
But, by the grace of God, I am what I am, 1 Corinthians 15:10
(Pickering, 1,000 Subjects, slightly adapted)
We – both Christ and his people – will bear the image of God, once lost, but now restored.
‘The sequence is clear. First, he will appear; in consequence, we will see him as he is; and so we shall be like him. (For references to ‘seeing’ God or Christ in heaven cf. Matt. 5:8; John 17:24; 1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 22:4). Already the image of God, marred by the fall, has been stamped upon us again. The new nature, which we assumed at our conversion, was ‘created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Eph. 4:24; cf. Col. 3:10). And since that day, in fulfilment of God’s predestinating purpose that we should be ‘conformed to the likeness of his Son’ (Rom. 8:29), the Holy Spirit has been transfiguring us ‘into his likeness with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18; cf. 1 John 2:6). In this latter passage the transformation is said to be due to the fact that ‘with unveiled faces’ we ‘all reflect the Lord’s glory’. This being so, it is understandable that when we see him as he is, and not our face only but his too will be unveiled, we will be finally and completely like him, including our bodies (Phil. 3:21; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49).’ (Stott)
This hope – Remember that the Christian hope is not ‘wishful thinking’. It is an unshakeable confidence in the future. It is sure and certain, because it is founded on the promises of God.
Everyone…purifies himself – John has already established that only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from the stain and guilt of sin. But we must be active in overcoming its power: we have a duty to purify ourselves. Everyone who shares in the Christian hope is pledged to a life of growing holiness. We resort continually to the cleansing blood of Christ, 1:7, and resolve continually to live pure lives that are pleasing to God. The background thought is of the ceremonial purification required before entering into God’s presence, Jn 11:55. This thought of outward purification passes very readily into the thought of inward cleansing, 2 Cor 7:1; Jas 4:8-9.
The standard of purity of that of Christ himself – as he is pure. John does not say that he ‘purified himself’, for he is eternally and unchangeably pure.
The Christian character is now developed by two ideas: righteousness, vv4-9, and love, vv10-18.
3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.
Sin is lawlessness –
‘This is in many ways the most important definition of sin in the New Testament. It reminds us that God has given us his law, his own nomos, summarised for us in the Ten Commandments, and man has rebelled against it. Man has not simply transgressed it. He has gone against it with all the force of his being. Sin is not only transgression of the law. It is also want of conformity to the law and at last rejection of the law and of the law-giver himself. God meant man to live a heteronomous existence, that is, an existence under the law of another; or, more narrowly, a theonomous existence, under the law of God. But man wants to be autonomous (auto – nomos). He wants to be his own law and so he throws off God’s law by not only defying it, but rejecting it in principle. Sin, then, is persistent, constant violation of the law of God in our own personal lives.
This definition reminds us that sin in its very nature is anomalous. The English word ‘anomalous’ comes from this same Greek word, anomia: without law. If something is an anomaly, that means it goes against all law and all reason, and that is a marvellous way of describing sin. Sin is the ultimate anomaly.
We are always reluctant to accept that sin cannot be understood. We want to ask, How? and, Why? How did it come? Why did God permit it? We want to reason through all those questions. But we have to come back to this: Sin is the end of law. Sin is an anomaly, and an anomaly by definition is what is beyond reason and what cannot be understood. How can we understand or explain how sin came into heaven? There was this great, brilliant angel, now known as Satan, but also known as Lucifer, the Light-bearer. He was perfectly blessed, magnificently intelligent, morally upright and totally integrated. Why should he choose to sin? How can I explain the Luciferian decision to rebel against God?-How can I explain the lawlessness of the Light-bearer? Why did the Light-bearer choose darkness? I have no answer to that at all.
Nor do I have any answer to the question, Why did Adam choose to sin? There was no need, no defect, no pressure, no threat, no danger, nothing to be gained. The Satanic arguments look so absurd and yet the first man freely chose to sin.
We have an even greater dilemma in the fact that the Christian (newborn, indwelt by the Spirit of God, united to Christ, rooted and built up in him, in possession of all these spiritual impulses and resources and driven by a dynamic towards holiness) chooses to sin. The Christian sins and (I say this advisedly) sins in union with Christ. He cannot say to God, ‘Lord, suspend the union while I sin,’ because at this level what God joins together man cannot put asunder. What a monstrous anomaly it is: a redeemed soul united to a risen Saviour committing an act of lawlessness. We are so tolerant of sin in ourselves. Instead, we should be outraged and angry. It was C H Spurgeon, I think, who once said, ‘The only heresy to which I have any inclination is perfectionism.’ He was trying to express how absurd it is that a believer should sin. The Apostle John says, in fact, that it is impossible. (1 Jn 3:9) John’s reason has a very modern ring to it: because the Christian is born of God, because the sperm of God is in him, he cannot sin. John wants us to know that when we sin we are committing the gravest anomaly and perpetrating the most appalling absurdity because, as Paul tells us, we are sinning in union with Christ. (1 Cor 6:15) Great damage has been done by our attempts to evade the force of this teaching. Daily, we do this absurd, impossible thing and take it in our stride, as if it were the most natural thing in the world that a Christian should sin. Sin is that which absolutely ought not to be, anywhere, and least of all in a Christian.’
(McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
Sin is not merely ‘missing the mark’, or a departure from a right standard of behaviour. It is in essence a rebellion against God’s will and a violation of his holy law. Sin means living as if there were no God and no divine law which binds us.
In considering the question of divine pre-ordination, Donald McLeod asks, ‘How then does sin come in and how does it relate to the purpose of God? Sin, according to 1 Jn 3:4, is lawlessness. Sin has no meaning, no logic, no purpose, no fruit. Sin is the end of law. When we ask, Why sin? How sin? we are really forgetting that. We are assuming that there is some logic to sin. But at the point of sin logic collapses because sin is the Black Hole whence there is no light and for which there is no logic. There is no way of knowing how or why sin entered heaven. There is no answer to the query, How could Satan tempt Adam and Eve when they were perfect and holy and so close to God? There is no answer to the question, Why did God permit it? Because it is a Black Hole. This is equally true of Hell: the Black Hole into which at last all the lawlessness is thrown. We know this principle at the personal level, too. We know the absurdity of sin. We know its utter indefensibility, its inexplicableness in our own lives. How can a person who is a new creation, indwelt by the Spirit of God, united to Christ, sin? How can we sin en Christo? We cannot suspend the union and the indwelling while we go and sin. We sin in Christ; and that surely is the ultimate in lawlessness and anomalousness.’ (A Faith to Live By)
3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 3:6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
So that he might take away our sins – How can we continue to entertain sin, when the whole purpose of Christ’s coming was to lift away our sin. Cf. Jn 1:29.
In him is no sin – Cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26.
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning – For the Christian, sin can no longer be habitual: it becomes the exception, rather than the rule. Sin is no longer the ruling principle. The Christian resists sin, and when he does sin, he confesses it, 1 Jn 1:9, and perseveres in self-purification. ‘These verses teach the utter incongruity of sin in the Christian. To see and know Christ, the sinless Saviour of sinners, is to outlaw sin; to sin is to deny Christ and to reveal that one is not abiding in him’ (Stott).
‘This has effects in the Christian for No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. We must not water down statements like this; the Christian has no business with sin and must never be complacent about it, even about occasional sin. But we should also notice that the present tense in Greek often has a continuous force and this appears to be its significance here: ‘No-one who continually lives in him makes a habit of sinning’ and again, No-one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. John is not writing about individual acts of sin, but about habitual attitudes. The life we live reveals the source from which we draw our life.’ (NBC)
‘Sin and the child of God are incompatible. They may occasionally meet; they cannot live together in harmony.’ (Stott)
‘It is but a false pretense of love to God that any man has who lives in any known sin. Where God is not loved above all, he is not loved at all; and he is not so where men will not part with one cursed lust for his sake. Do not let your light deceive you, nor your gifts, nor your duties, nor your profession; if you live in sin, you do not love God.’ (John Owen)
3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous.
There is an ever-present danger of foundering on the twin rocks of legalism and antinomianism. The latter is the danger referred to here.
3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.
‘The devil’s work’, suggests Stott, is threefold: ‘morally, his work is enticement to sin; physically, the infliction of disease; intellectually, seduction into error. He still assaults man’s soul, body and mind in these three ways.’
John turns here from the nature to the origin of sin. ‘The devil made no man, begat no man, created no man: but whoso imitates the devil, becomes a child of the devil, as if begotten of him’ (Augustine).
‘The agenda of the Messiah and his people is to dislodge and displace the occupying powers of darkness and reverse what they have done. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that he might destroy the works of the devil”…The (1 Jn 3:8, NASB) ebb and flow in the life of God’s people in times of renewal and decline only reflect the advances and retreats in this invisible warfare, as the territory which is more substantially controlled by God’s Spirit expands and contracts.’ (Lovelace, Renewal as a Way of Life, 104)
3:9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.
NASB: No one who is born of God practices sin, because his seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
Donald Macleod affirms that systematic theology has a part to play in the interpretation of individual texts of scripture, such as this one. There is a danger, however, that the expositor might expend all his energy on defending the assertion that believers do, in fact sin, rather than in allowing this text to speak its own truth by underscoring the anomalousness of sin in the life of a child of God.
God Is Love, So We Must Love One Another
3:11 For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another, 3:12 not like Cain who was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous.
3:13 Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.
3:14 We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death. 3:15 Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
We know that we have passed from death to life – Both Old and New Testaments seem to view it as the norm that God’s people will be assured of their standing with him. ‘‘We know that nothing shall separate us from the love of God,’ writes St. Paul. (Rom 8:39) The same Apostle Paul was able, in the gloom of his Roman dungeon, to say, ‘I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there awaits me the crown of righteousness’. (2 Tim 4:7-8) he faced death with total confidence because he was certain of his own relationship with God.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
3:16 We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. 3:17 But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?
This is how we know what love is – The AV translates: ‘Hereby perceive we the love of God’. The manuscript evidence for this is inadequate, as was recognised during the 18th century, when the words ‘of God’ were placed in italics.
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us – lit. ‘one died for us’, but it is clear that Christ is meant.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us – Love gives, whatever the cost to itself.
Just in case the previous verse seems too heroic, John brings us down to earth by asserting that true Christian love will affect our wallets, cf. 2 Cor 8:2-3.
3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth. 3:19 And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence, 3:20 that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things.
3:21 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, 3:22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him
3:23 Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment. 3:24 And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us: by the Spirit he has given us.
We believe in the name of his Son – True faith includes reliance on Christ. ‘The soul casts itself upon Jesus Christ; faith rests on Christ’s person. Faith believes the promise; but that which faith rests upon in the promise is the person of Christ: therefore the spouse is said to ‘lean upon her Beloved.’ So 8:5. Faith is described to be ‘believing on the name of the Son of God,’ 1 Jn 3:23, viz., on his person. The promise is but the cabinet, Christ is the jewel in it which faith embraces; the promise is but the dish, Christ is the food in it which faith feeds on. Faith rests on Christ’s person, ‘as he was crucified.’ It glories in the cross of Christ. Gal 6:14. To consider Christ crowned with all manner of excellencies, stirs up admiration and wonder; but Christ looked upon as bleeding and dying, is the proper object of our faith; it is called therefore ‘faith in his blood.’ Rom 3:25.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)
‘The Saviour had promised (Jn 14:23) that he would come and take up his abode with his which people. John says that we have proof that he does this by the Spirit he has given us. That is, the Holy Spirit is imparted to his people to enlighten their minds; to elevate their affections; to sustain them in times of trial; to quicken them in the performance of duty; and to imbue them with the temper and spirit of the Lord Jesus. When these effects exist, we may be certain that the Spirit of God is with us; for these are the “fruits” of that Spirit, or these are the effects which he produces in the lives of men…No man can be a true Christian in whom that Spirit does not constantly dwell, or to whom he is not “given.” And yet no one can determine that the Spirit dwells in him, except by the effects produced in his heart and life. In the following chapter, the apostle pursues the subject suggested here, and shows that we should examine ourselves closely, to see whether the “Spirit” to which we trust, as furnishing evidence of piety, is truly the Spirit of God, or is a spirit of delusion.’ (Barnes)