1 John 3.1-10
How many times have we heard or told people say that a child has his mom’s eyes or dad’s nose? Or as a parent, how have you noticed that your children have acquired your personalities and habits – good and bad? We recognize that there are biological similarities within families. People typically acquire height, hair color, freckles, baldness, intelligence, and susceptibility to some diseases or vision issues based on family genetics.
On the other hand, we also notice that there are learned behaviours that are largely attributed to proximity and association. In these environments, people learn to deal with conflict in a positive way or negative way. We can learn a biblical worldview or a secular one. In these environments we learn to pull for good sports teams or for teams like the Maple Leafs.
Behavioural things such as these can be reconditioned. So, all is not lost for Leafs’ fans. Seriously, those who have learned racism, political bias, unhealthy responses in conflict or relationship issues, can change by learning and applying what we learn. And behaviours change.
But how does the spiritual aspect factor into this? The Bible speaks of human beings being made physical and immaterial, body and soul. This is an interesting question because our spiritual condition will manifest itself a bit differently. Our outward behaviour will demonstrate our family relationship. John will argue this point in our current text. Beyond that, our family relationship determines our ability or inability to change our behaviour. Let’s have a look. Please turn in your Bibles to 1 John 3.1-10.
We recall that John often speaks bluntly, clearly, and definitively in this letter. He is out to counter the false teachers who have defected from among the believers and to ensure confidence in those who remain. And to do so, he must speak boldly and with great clarity. The false teachers that had left were trying to influence the believers. At the outset of the letter, John had pointed out the inconsistency in what their lives reflected against what they were saying. He will continue to point out this inconsistency in our text and also cause those who think they are Christian to do a reassessment of their condition before God.
Last week, John spoke of those who had the spirit of antichrist. It was these who left that had shown themselves to not be genuine believers in Jesus. It was those who truly believed in him that remained. He exhorted them to cling to the gospel that they received in the beginning. He then encouraged them by pointing out the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. John’s last thought from chapter 2 really serves as a transition into our text. He reiterates their abiding in Christ and how it confirms their being a child of God. As we enter chapter 3, John will elaborate on this family relationship. Let’s read the text together. READ.
Our first point is Children of God. Quite similar to Paul’s writing, the previous thought must have prompted John to consider the almost inconceivable thought that believers in Jesus are children of God. He says, “Look!” “Behold!” “What kind of love God the Father has!” “He has called us children of God. And so we are.” Have you stopped to ponder this? That the Creator of the universe has made the believer in Jesus Christ his very child is an overwhelming thought!
However, it is only overwhelming when you understand the great chasm that exists between us and him. We often make the mistake of elevating ourselves or bringing God closer to our level. But when we consider that we are hopeless unless he intervenes, we have no choice but to be awestruck at the love that has called us his children. John 1:12–13 “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
And the truth is we need to constantly be immersed in this because, when we are children of God, it puts us at odds with those who are not. John continues his thought and says “the reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” John again uses the Greek word, kosmos, to communicate those who do not know us or him. It is the word that is translated “world” here. In this context, kosmos, refers to the unbelieving world – people who are opposed to God and believers, and who are under the power of the evil one. He reiterates the point down in verse 13, when he tells his readers not to be surprised that the world hates them. 1 John 4:4–5 “4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.” And in 1 John 5:19 “19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
So John uses this concept quite frequently to distinguish between those who call on Jesus and those who are opposed to him. Elsewhere, when the Bible speaks of Christians, it often uses language that indicates that our citizenship lies beyond this time and place. In Hebrews 11, the author refers to them as strangers and exiles on the earth. Peter writes his first letter to elect exiles and urges them as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh.
From your experience you likely realize that this is true. When the world that does not know Jesus looks at his followers, it is difficult to understand why Christians would live the way they do. The world’s system tells us to look out for ourselves, promote ourselves, and to strive for stability and wealth. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, live selflessly and recklessly for him. This is radical discipleship. And this looks quite abnormal to the world. Indeed this is often our best testimony and opportunity to speak of our Savior.
John continues in verse 2 to restate that presently his readers are God’s children. And yet there is a future reality that will supersede our existence of the here and now. John says that there is a time coming when we will more fully understand who we were created to be. He refers to the time when Jesus will return and we will see him in person. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:49–53 “49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” It is the time when we will receive our glorified bodies.
It is interesting that John indicates that it will be in our seeing him that will allow us to be like him. And yet this is consistent with the rest of the Bible. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we see him dimly now, but then we will see him face to face. He says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 “18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Now trace this with me. We often refer to a famous passage in Romans 8:28–30 that says “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
So here is how this all works out. We were created in the image of God. And when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they represented all of us and marred that image. As we recently learned in our Doctrine class, we still maintain the image of God – albeit like a mirror that has been broken. When Jesus returns, we will see and understand completely what it is that we were created for – what the image of God resembles when it is not distorted. We will see the mirror without the cracks. But this doesn’t mean that we resign ourselves to sitting around, waiting for Jesus at the end to set it right. Look what he says in verse 3.
John says that those who hope in Jesus, purify themselves as Jesus is pure. There is an active process that is our pursuit – those whose hope is in him. John says that this pursuit involves purifying ourselves in the same way that Jesus is pure. How do we do this? What does it mean to be pure as he is? As believers, we must spend our lifetime becoming acquainted with our Savior so that we know what this looks like. The fact that Jesus is no longer on the earth gives us no excuse to not get to know him. This book cover to cover tells us who he is and what it means to be like him.
Purity will not come to lazy people. It is no coincidence that when Paul speaks of becoming more Christ-like that he speaks in “striving” language. Philippians 3:12–14 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 9:24–27 “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Timothy 6:12 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. Hebrews 12:1 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
John MacArthur adds this, “In thinking about heaven, believers should not become overly preoccupied with speculations about what it might be like to float on clouds or walk down golden streets. Instead, their primary focus should be on the profound significance of being eternally conformed to the image of Christ. As they fix their hope on their absolutely holy Savior and Lord and yearn to be both with Him and fully like Him in the future, their lives will be positively affected toward righteousness in the present.”
And though, we see clearly our active participation in this, John suggests that this is indicative of the believers. He doesn’t use the word “should” but just says that it is so among Christians. He says everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. So those who are consistent in knowing more of Christ and looking like him show themselves to be his followers. And when we see him, the process will be completed. The way I think about this is this: If we spend a lifetime becoming acquainted with Jesus and zealously purifying ourselves, we should not be utterly shocked when we see him face to face. Granted, we will be overcome and will fall down in worship. But I don’t think we will be like, “Oh. Is that what you look like?? I had no idea. I thought…” We are children of God!!
The next point is Enslaved Children. Look at verse 4. John says that everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. He again points out the incongruity with regard to the false teachers who had left them. By their sinful lifestyle, they were disqualifying their claims to Christ. To sin is to break the law of God.
In verse 8, John says that whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. I believe that both of these verses speak of those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ and are yet alienated with God the Father. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus that explains the level playing field of those apart from Jesus. Ephesians 2:1–3 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Romans 3 informs us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4 tells us that the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing and that the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Romans 8:7–8 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” These are enslaved children to the flesh and to the devil. Our sinful nature has placed us in opposition to God and in league with the Enemy.
Perhaps you remember a conversation that Jesus had with some of the Jewish leaders who wrongly claimed that God was their Father. John 8:41–47 “We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
The devil has been sinning from the beginning. We know that he rebelled against God and was cast from heaven. We also know that he was in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve instigating sin and rebellion, persecuting and accusing believers. And yet even in the Book of Genesis we have a promise that God has not left his creation without hope. Even from the earliest pages of Scripture we know that there was a promised Messiah that would come. Genesis 3:15 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
The third point today is Liberated Children.
In verse 5, John says that He appeared to take away sin. In verse 8, he says that the reason that the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. We’ve already learned in chapter 2 that Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He took our place on the cross and faced the judgment that we deserved. In chapter 1, we noted that it is his blood that cleanses us from sin. Here we see that it is the sinless Son of God who would come and die as a perfect sacrifice for us.
But beyond this, I believe that when Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, it provided the ability to become free from sin’s power over us. Romans 6:4–15 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Previously slaves to sin, the believer in Jesus Christ no longer has to accommodate the sinful flesh. Titus 2:11–14 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
We need to note some things of importance in our text. Verse 6 says that “no one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” We recall that in the first chapter, John says that the person who says that he has no sin or has not sinned is a liar and makes God a liar. These truths are not contradictory. With John’s use of the present tense in this chapter, he is stating that the believer in Jesus is no longer enslaved in sin and does not habitually sin. John had also said in chapter 1 that the person who confesses his sin is forgiven. And in chapter 2, he said that if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
However, the person who repents of sin and trusts in Jesus Christ should demonstrate a dramatic and ongoing change of lifestyle that reflects his Lord. The false teachers continued a sinful lifestyle that demonstrated that they were children of the devil and not God the Father. The one who abides in Christ will be characterized in practicing righteousness because he imitates the one who is righteous.
Verse 9 provides us with some insight as to why. John says that “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. Last week, we saw in 2.24 that the gospel of Jesus Christ abides in the believer. It is the Word of God that had been implanted within them that assures them that they are His children. Listen to Peter, 1 Peter 1:23–25 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
John closes this section in verse 10 with apparent confidence in these distinctions. He says “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.”
Let me ask you: Is it evident who you are related to? If you had to insert your name in this text, what would your family tree look like? What is the family resemblance? Do you look like the Father in heaven? Can you say that you have been born of him? Or are you still enslaved by sin and alienated from him?
There was a man named Nicodemus who wanted to know more of what it meant to be born of God. Listen to his conversation with Jesus in the Gospel of John.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Yet again there is a clear delineation between the child of God and those who prefer the darkness and stand condemned. If you have not done so, repent and trust Christ today and demonstrate that you too are one of his children. Let’s pray.