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1 John 3:4-10: Sin and the Child of God

Looking at many current polls, there seems to very little difference between those who claim to be born again believers and those who are not. When it comes to sexual morality, materialism, hedonism, and worldview, those claiming to be Christians think and act just like the world. Some may claim to believe in Jesus and the Bible, but their lives do not support their claims. The polls show that members of the evangelical church divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smile in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy.

“The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. Gallup and Barna, laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. Divorce is more common among born-again Christians than in the general American population…Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their non evangelical peers.” –Adapted from, Ronald J. Sider, Books and culture-A Christian review, Christianity Today

It is not surprising that George Barna concludes, “Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change.”

Graham Cyster, a Christian whom I know from South Africa, recently told me a painful story about a personal experience two decades ago when he was struggling against apartheid as a young South African evangelical. One night, he was smuggled into an underground Communist cell of young people fighting apartheid. “Tell us about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” they asked, half hoping for an alternative to the violent communist strategy they were embracing. Graham gave a clear, powerful presentation of the gospel, showing how personal faith in Christ wonderfully transforms persons and creates one new body of believers where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, rich nor poor, black nor white. The youth were fascinated. One seventeen-year-old exclaimed, “That is wonderful! Show me where I can see that happening.” Graham's face fell as he sadly responded that he could not think of anywhere South African Christians were truly living out the message of the gospel. “Then the whole thing is a piece of sh—,” the youth angrily retorted. Within a month he left the country to join the armed struggle against apartheid—and eventually giving his life for his beliefs. The young man was right. If Christians do not live what they preach, the whole thing is a farce. “American Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century,” Barna concludes, “because Jesus’ modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus.” This scandalous behavior mocks Christ, undermines evangelism, and destroys Christian credibility.” –Ronald J. Sider

The book of First John is much-needed for our current form of Christianity. In combating certain heretics who had left the church and who were recruiting others to join them, John gives three tests of authentic Christianity: the moral test (obedience to Christ); the relational test (love for others); and, the doctrinal test (believing the truth about Christ). From 2:28-3:10, John gives the second application of the moral test. He makes it clear that a righteous life is a distinguishing mark of one that truly has been born of God. John’s overall theme in 3:4-10 is: Because sin is serious and it is opposed to the reasons why Christ came, Christians do not and cannot live in sin.

John was very concerned that Christians know how to tell the true from the false; truth from error, the genuine from the artificial; and true believers from false ones. He presents tests here and throughout this letter to help determine the validity of anybody’s claims to be a Christian. True believers, genuine Christians have a sin nature, 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Christians do commit sin and need to confess it, 1 John 1:9, “ If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

A genuinely born again believer has a built-in check or guard against habitual sinning due to a new nature, he is born of God. 1 John 3:9, “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.” And Romans 6:12 NLT, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.”

Verses 4-10 fall into two sections: 3:4-7 is parallel to 3:8-10. –Adapted from, The Letters of John by John R. W. Stott

Section 1:

•3:4: sin is serious because it is rebellion against God.

•3:5: Sin is opposed to Christ’s appearing to take away sins.

•3:6: a true Christian does not live in sin.

•3:7: a true Christian practices righteousness.

Section 2:

•3:8a: Sin is serious because it originates with the devil.

•3:8b: Sin is opposed to Christ’s appearing to destroy the works of the devil.

•3:9: A true Christian cannot live in sin.

•3:10: a true Christian practices righteousness and love.

Now to our text:

Verse 4: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Nearly all translations render, “commits” as “practices.” For example the English Standard Version, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” Also the NET Bible, and the New American Standard Bible.

“John’s description allows for no exceptions or dual standards. Everyone who habitually practices sin is living in an ongoing condition of lawlessness (James 2:10–11; cf. Romans 4:15), which marks all who are outside the kingdom of God (cf. Romans 1:32; Galatians 5:19–21; Revelation 21:8). –John MacArthur

“Practices’ is in the present tense which expresses an action that continues. So John shows the incompatibility of being a child of God and yet continuing in sin.

To quote the respected Bible teacher Chuck Smith (now with the Lord) “You cannot be living in sin and at the same time rightly claim to be a child of God...If you are living in sin, you have not seen Him nor known Him (as your Savior). It makes no difference what you may say or profess. Salvation is much more than saying the right things, it is doing the right things....Many people today are resting in false hopes. There are many who are deceived by the false professions that they make.”

“Sin,” Hamartia in Greek, in the Bible signifies a departure from God's holy, perfect standard of what is right in word or deed. It pictures the idea of missing God’s appointed goal. In short, sin is conceived as a missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is the Triune God Himself. As Martin Luther put it “Sin is essentially a departure from God.” Sin is a deliberate deviation from the standard of right. It is a willful rebellion, arising from the deliberate choice of the sinner. The law is like a ruler and sin is like a crooked line, anyone can detect a crooked line (sin) when a perfectly straight line (law) is drawn next to it!

“There was a little boy who when his Sunday school teacher asked him this question, (what is sin?) said, ‘I think it is anything you like to do.’ That is not far from wrong, because in our natural state we are so utterly out of touch with God that we like to do those things that are contrary to His holy will.” –H.A. Ironside

“In your practice of sin, you rebel against your rightful King and say, ‘I hate Your law.’ Sin is nothing less than personal treason against the Sovereign of the universe. And sin is not a one-time offense. It is the habitual and settled disposition of your heart and your life that makes you ‘an outlaw against God.’” –Daniel Akin

Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman used to tell of a Methodist preacher who often spoke on the subject of sin. He minced no words, but defined sin as “that abominable thing that God hates.” A leader in his congregation came to him on one occasion and urged him to cease using the ugly word. “Pastor,” he said, “We wish you would not speak so plainly about sin. Our young people, hearing you, will be more likely to indulge in sin. Call it something else, a 'inhibition,' or 'error' or a 'mistake,' or even 'a twist in our nature.’” “I understand what you mean,” the preacher remarked and going to his desk brought out a little bottle. “This bottle,” he said, “contains strychnine. You will see that the red label here reads 'Poison.' Would you suggest that I change the label, and paste one on that says, 'Wintergreen?’” He made his point. You can call sin by other names, but none-the-less, it is still sin.” –Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman

“Lawlessness” is anomia, meaning “no law.” It literally describes that which is without the law, a disregard for, or actual breach of the law of God. It is an attitude of flagrant opposition to and disregard for the statutes of God. It is not so much the having of no law but the living as if there were no law. A person who rejects God’s authority doesn’t care what God thinks about his habits. He has the heart of a rebel, a continual inclination and attitude to do what is wrong! It's not just missing the mark, but is an active rebellion against God.

“Lawlessness is living as though your own ideas are superior to God's. Lawlessness says, ‘God may demand it, but I don't prefer it.’ Lawlessness says, ‘God may promise it, but I don't want it.’ Lawlessness replaces God's law with my contrary desires. I become a law to myself. Lawlessness is rebellion against the right of God to make laws and govern his creatures....The work of Satan is to tempt us to reject the authority of God and become like God ourselves. Satan works to nurture and cultivate the pride that puts its own desires above the law of God. This is lawlessness; this is the essence of sin; and this is what the Son of God came to destroy in you and me.” –John Piper

Verse 5: “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” “You know that He appeared [in visible form as a man] in order to take away sins; and in Him there is [absolutely] no sin [for He has neither the sin nature nor has He committed sin or acts worthy of blame].” (Amplified Bible) “Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin.” (The Message)

Jesus Christ did not come to this earth just to give us good moral teachings, or as an example, although He did those things. His main reason for coming was to take away sins by bearing the penalty that we deserved in His own body on the cross. 1 Peter 2:24 NLT, “He personally carried our sins in His body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”

That’s the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Verse 6: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning." (New International Version) “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (English Standard Version).

“Sins” in Greek is, hamartano, “keeps on sinning.” It is in the present tense and means continually misses the mark, living a lifestyle which is contrary to the will and law of God.

“1 John 3:6 ought to read, ‘Whosoever abides in Him does not habitually sin.’ Ephesians 2:1–3, makes it clear that the unsaved sin constantly because they live in the flesh and for the devil. But the Christian has a new nature within (cf., Ezekiel 36:27) and is no longer Satan’s slave.’’–Wiersbe

“Sin may rebel, it cannot reign in a saint. He sinneth not sinningly....he loves not sin, he lies not in it, but rises again by repentance, and is restless till that be done, and done to purpose.”–John Trapp

2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

If we abide in Christ, we cannot live in sin! Sin is no longer our master. Genuine believers cannot live a lifestyle of sin.

“The sense conveyed here is the idea of habitual, constant sinning. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. If no check against habitual sin exists in someone who professes to be a Christian, John’s pronouncement is absolutely clear—salvation never took place.” –John MacArthur

“This plain, simple verse, has been twisted by some who believe in the doctrine of perfection, and they have made it declare that it is possible for some to abide in Christ, and therefore not to sin. But you will remark that it does not say, that some that abide in Christ do not sin; but it says that none who abide in Christ sin. ‘Whosoever abides in Him does not sin.’ Therefore this passage is not to be applied to a few who attain to what is called by our Arminian friends the fourth degree—perfection; but it appertains to all believers; and of every soul in Christ it may be said, that he does not sin. In reading the Bible, we read it simply as we would read another book. We ought not to read it as a preacher his text, with the intention of making something out of every word; but we should read it as we find it written: "Whosoever abides in Christ does not sin." Now we are sure that cannot mean that he does not sin at all, but it means that sins not habitually, he sins not designedly, he sins not finally, so as to perish. The Bible often calls a man righteous; but that does not mean that he is perfectly righteous. It calls a man a sinner, but it does not imply that he may not have done some good deeds in his life; it means that that is the man's general character. So with the man who abides in Christ: his general character is not that he is a sinner, but that he is a saint—he sins not openly and willfully before men. In his own heart, he has much to confess, but his life before his fellow creatures is such a one that it can be said of him: "Whosoever abides in Him does not sin; but whosoever sins [the sins of this world. in which the multitude indulge] hath not seen him, neither known him." –C.H. Spurgeon

It is clear that John is telling us that a person who keeps on living a sinful lifestyle is one who cannot be a child of God. True believers confess their sin and work to overcome sinful habits. Non-believers continue in their sin. John’s point is this: the person who is unchanged in the way they live their life, shows that they have not truly met Christ. The true believer is being transformed by God’s Spirit. They are becoming new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) on the inside and out If our faith is not affecting the way we live, it is not a genuine faith.

Verse 7: “Little children, let no one deceive you (lead you astray). He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”

“Deceive” is planao which describes a wandering. It is in the present imperative which calls for this to be our continual practice (to not be led astray), something that ultimately can only be accomplished as we rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

“He says that the secret of doing right is to possess and experience within yourself the life of the Righteous One. There is only One who is righteous, or who ever has been righteous, the Lord Jesus himself. His life must be lived again in you in order for you to be righteous. There is no other basis. No flabby substitutes, no sleazy imitations, no cocky parodies, no grim copies, no slimy counterfeit, will be accepted. There is only one basis for righteousness and that is to reproduce, in the plan and purpose of God and by means of the Holy Spirit, the life of the Son of God in you. Nothing else than that is righteousness.” –Ray Stedman

Verse 8: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” “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.” (ESV)

The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon is quite blunt in his comments on this passage: “Well, labor under no mistake, sir. ‘He that practices sin is of the devil.’ It is no use making excuses and apologies; if you are a lover of sin, you shall go where sinners go. If you, who live after this fashion, say that you have believed in the precious blood of Christ, I do not believe you, sir. If you had a true faith in that precious blood, you would hate sin. If you dare to say you are trusting in the atonement while you live in sin, you lie, sir; you do not trust in the atonement; for where there is a real faith in the atoning sacrifice, it purifies the man, and makes him hate the sin which shed the Redeemer's blood.” And all of God's people say “Amen!” –C.H. Spurgeon

He who sins of the devil: He who practices sins is in the present tense, meaning sin is the general direction of their life. Notice that John contrasts children of the Devil with the children of God by their actions. What they do, how they behave, and reflect to whom they belong. There is no middle ground, one is either safe in Christ or in the family of the Devil and under his diabolic influence. Paul summarizes the estate of every unregenerate man or woman...Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (the devil).”

Verse 9: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” “Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.” (NLT)

We know John is not talking about sinless perfection because the Greek verb “practices sin” implies continuous action. This being true, a better translation of verse 9 would be, “No one born of God is content to keep sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot be content to keep on sinning because he is born of God.”

If indeed John is saying that a child of God could live his life without sinning, he would be contradicting what he said in 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And 1 John 1:8,9, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

“His seed” refers to the principle of divine life in the believer. It is this principle of divine life that makes it impossible for a Christian to live habitually in sin, for the divine nature causes the child of God to hate sin and love righteousness, and gives him both the desire and the power to do God’s will, as Paul says in Philippians 2:13, ‘for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.’”–Wuest

Verse 10: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” “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.” (ESV)

One of the first questions we ask when a new baby arrives is, "Who does he/she look like?" Features such as physical appearance, including the color of hair and eyes, facial characteristics, the shape of the mouth or nose, height and build, are given at birth. Later on, as the child grows and begins to reflect its parents' habits of action, speech or attitude, we may speak of a child as "a chip off the old block." Although not all children are simply smaller versions of their parents, it is unusual if there is not something in the physical, emotional or moral makeup of the child that reflects its birth or upbringing.

In this section of the epistle the author develops at greater length the responsibility that falls on the children of God. Quite clearly he expects that the children of God will bear an undeniable resemblance to one whom they claim as their spiritual parent, God or Satan.

In this letter John shows the extremes of black and white. Truth is truth and error is error. All of humanity is divided between the righteous and the unrighteous; children of the devil, and the children of God. And John says there is no fellowship between them, no possible blending. There are no gray areas of truth! It is either white or its opposite, black. There are no shades or degrees of truth. So it is in this matter of mankind -- we either belong to the children of God, or we are children of the devil, one or the other. –Adapted from Ray Stedman

Jesus, in John 8;44, speaking to the Jews, says, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

It is only by new birth that we become children of God. This is why Jesus said to that cultured, honored, respected leader of his own day, Nicodemus, who came to him by night, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3) All your knowledge, your education, your morality, or your religion is of no value here. Unless you are born again, you are still part and parcel of the family and kingdom of Satan. The whole thrust of the gospel is always in this direction. It is to deliver people from the kingdom of Satan and to bring them into the kingdom of God.

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common Enåglish bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).

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