Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you; we’re making it top priority to understand your Word and to live it; we pray in Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.
I’ll use the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Frequently I’ll make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious.
For a review I’m going to turn back to page 194 of my book. We come to the heading, “A Discussion of the Three Most Important Passages Often Used to Try to Prove that Christians Cannot Walk in Victory Over Sin During this Present Age.” My studies indicate that the three most important such passages are Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17; and 1 John 1:8. Of these three the first and third are the most often used, that is, Rom. 7:14-25 and 1 John 1:8. (We have already completed a study of Rom. 7:14-25, in its context, and Gal. 5:17, in its context, and we have started a study of 1 John 1:8, in its context.) From my point of view, much damage has been done to be the Body of Christ through a serious misunderstanding of these passages. I don’t believe any of them suggest that Christians cannot walk in total victory over sin. The New Testament consistently teaches that Christians can and should live above (without) sin. That’s the ideal; we certainly must be aiming at the target. There’s something seriously wrong if we are not trying to stop sinning and making it top priority to live in the righteousness and holiness of God, by grace through faith. The call (and enablement) to walk in victory over sin is a big part of what salvation in Christ is all about.
Salvation, including salvation from the authority and power of sin, comes by grace through faith. We cannot walk in victory over sin apart from faith for that victory, and since our faith is based on the Word of God, our faith must be based on the Word of God, we cannot have faith for victory over sin if we believe that some passages teach that such a victory is unattainable. All the many passages that clearly teach victory over sin (for example, Romans chapters 6 and 8; Galatians chapter 5, and the first epistle of John) cannot be taken at face value (they must be substantially qualified) by those who don’t believe such a victory is possible. Victory over sin is often put off until after the resurrection.
It is very important for us to rightly divide the Word of God on this topic (and on every topic). There are powerful enemies arrayed against us that want to keep us in sin: the world, the flesh, and the devil and his hosts. We will never defeat the enemy on a consistent basis apart from the grace of God appropriated by faith.
In the last article we turned to page 200 and the heading, “1 John 1:2-6 and 2:28-3:12 with the Emphasis on the Meaning of 1 John 1:8.” I’ll read the first sentence I have here, “In order to understand this important epistle of the apostle John, and 1 John 1:8, we must understand that it was written to refute a powerful heresy that had arisen in the Christian church.” We have discussed that heresy, the heresy of Gnosticism, quite a bit already.
I’ll read 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Many Christians think John wrote this verse to rebuke some Christians who thought they could walk with the victory over sin. I’m very sure that’s a wrong interpretation of this verse. The apostle John wrote this verse (1 John 1:8) to refute the Gnostic heretics. This entire epistle was written to refute the Gnostic heretics. They denied that they were sinners, and they denied the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last time we finished our study of 1 John 1:5-2:6; we are ready to begin a study of 1 John 2:28-3:12. I’ll turn to page 208 and we come to the heading, “1 John 2:28-3:12.” These verses constitute one of the most clear and powerful statements in the New Testament which shows that Christians are enabled (and expected) to walk in righteousness with the victory over all sin. If you hear this right, this is very good news. This passage is very important in its own right, and it also helps demonstrate that the apostle did not teach that Christians cannot have the victory over all sin in 1 John 1:8.
1 John 2:28. (I’m reading from my book, which uses the New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition.) “And now little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” Isn’t that an ugly thought; He comes, and we shrink away from Him in shame. We must make it top priority to always be ready for His coming.
I’ll read what I said under the words, “abide in Him.” Christians are exhorted to abide in God the Father and God the Son (see 1 John 1:3; 2:24). I’ll read both of these verses, In 1 John 1:3 the apostle John said, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” What a Savior! What a salvation plan! We are invited to have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son. Now I’ll read 1 John 2:24, “As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. [In other words, keep believing the true gospel, the gospel you received through the apostles; don’t listen to heretics, including the Gnostic heretics; you must believe the truth.] If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” Again, what a privilege to abide in, and to have fellowship with, God the Father and God the Son through new-covenant salvation. We abide in God by abiding in the truth, Spirit, life, light, righteousness, holiness, and love of God (see, for example, 1 John 1:6, 7; 2:6, 10, 24, 27; 3:6, 24; 4:12-19; 5:11-13).
Now well discuss the words, “so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” of 2:28. The New Testament frequently speaks of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (The Greek noun translated “coming” here, and often, is “parousia.”) When He returns that’s when the rapture will take place, for one thing. It is possible that we should also think of the coming (or presence) of God the Father here. As the margin of the NASB shows, “at His coming” could be translated “in His presence.” God the Father is mentioned in 1 John 3:1 and at the end of 2:29, and His presence is frequently mentioned in conjunction with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the day of judgment (see, for example, Col. 1:22, 28; 1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 1:24; and Rev. 11:15-17).
Christians are frequently exhorted (in the New Testament) to make sure they are always fully ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. They must abide in God, and as we have discussed, abiding in God includes abiding in the truth, the truth of the Word of God, and abiding in the righteousness and holiness of God. What a privilege; what a Savior; what a salvation plan! But we must stay faithful to the new covenant by God’s sufficient grace.
1 John 2:29. “If you know that He is righteous [How many know that God is righteous, with no sin at all?], you know that everyone also who practices righteousness [or, everyone who is doing righteousness] is born of Him.” The Christian’s righteousness comes from God, who gives them the new birth. He causes His Righteous, Holy Spirit of life to dwell in them through the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is righteous and His children (the ones who are born of Him) are enabled (and required to be) righteous. They are the ones who are practicing (or, who are doing) righteousness.
As we have discussed, God imputes and imparts His righteousness to Christians; He enables them to walk in His righteousness and holiness. This is a big part of what new-covenant salvation is all about. On practicing or doing righteousness, compare, for example, 1 John 1:6, 7, 9; 2:1-17; 3:3-24; 4:7-21; 5:1-4, 18, 19. I’ll quote 1 John 3:7, 8a (We’ll be coming to these verses as we continue with this study.) “Little children, let no one deceive you [there were many deceivers then, just like there are now]; the one who practices righteousness [or, the one who is doing righteousness] is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous. [How could you state the victory over sin that we are called to any more clearly or in stronger terms than that, to be righteous as God is righteous.] the one who practices sin [or, the one who is doing sin] is of the devil.”
First John 2:29 strongly infers and 1 John 3:3-12 clearly state that those who are not practicing (or doing) righteousness (those who are living in sin) are not the children of God. The apostle John, in a style typical of the Scriptures, presents the black and white with very little recognition of the in-between gray area. We are not supposed to be living in the in-between gray area where so many Christians do live. It’s very easy to live there; to be fleshly; to be worldly; to live in sin part of the time, but that’s a dangerous place to live and a totally unsatisfying way to live. The good news is that God calls (and enables) Christians to live in the center of His will, in His righteousness and holiness. If we are righteous as God is righteous that certainly is victory over all sin, is it not?”
Before we move on to the next verses, let me remind you of 1 John 2:1, 2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin [that you may not commit an act of sin; that you may not sin at all]. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” These verses make it very clear that born-again Christians should not be sinning at all (that’s good news!), but they also make it clear that if Christians repent, they will be forgiven and restored through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God. Thank God for forgiveness. If we repent we certainly will be forgiven.
1 John 3:1, 2. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him [There are two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. The devil is the god of this world system.]. (2) Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet [or, it has not been manifested as yet] what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.” Talk about a destiny! We shall be like Him! See under 1 John 2:28. When He appears, all who have loved His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8) will be resurrected/transformed into the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. I’ll read 2 Timothy 4: 7, 8; this is the apostle Paul right at the end of his life; he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” If we love His appearing we will live in the light of that appearing. We will make it top priority to always be ready for His appearing, always living in His truth, His righteousness, and His holiness, by His sufficient grace.
I’ll briefly comment on the words, “We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (of 1 John 3:2).] To be able to see Him just as He is will necessitate that we be glorified first. We will be born into the fullness of eternal life and glorified at the time of His return, and we will begin to reign with Him in a never-ending reign. What a salvation plan! What a Savior!
1 John 3:3. (This is a very weighty verse!) “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him [the hope that was just mentioned in 3:2; the hope of being glorified, of being like Him, of seeing Him as He is, of reigning with Him, etc.] purifies Himself, just as He is pure.” Talk about a call to victory over all sin! Now we’ll discuss these super-important words, “purifies himself, just as He [God] is pure.” I believe the apostle John is speaking (at least for the most part) of an ideal, once-for-all purification that is available at the beginning of the Christian life. That’s the ideal; we stop sinning and begin to walk in the purity, righteousness, and holiness of God when we become Christians. What a glorious ideal! And God’s grace is sufficient!
We walk in the purity, righteousness, and holiness of God by walking in accordance with His Word (by faith) and by walking in and after His Spirit (by faith). At conversion the Christian is born of God and begins to practice (or, to do) righteousness (see, for example, 1 John 2:29 and 3:6-12). The heretics that John was refuting when he wrote this epistle did not purify themselves; they did not walk in the truth or the righteousness of God. This proved that they were not children of God. Their “gospel” must be rejected.
The apostle tells us here that Christians are required to purify themselves (by the grace of God in Christ Jesus) and to be pure just as God is pure. How could you have a more powerful call to righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin. (See, for example, 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 John 1:5-7; 2:3-6, 29; 3:6-12, and I could have listed many more such references.) This verse, 1 John 3:3, by itself, should suffice to demonstrate that the apostle John was not denying that Christians can walk with the total victory over sin in this present life in 1 John 1:8.
Now we come to 1 John 3:4-12. I’ll read 3:4, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” Apparently John made this somewhat obvious point (that sin is lawlessness) to underscore the fact that sin is a very serious matter. It is lawlessness; it is rebellion against God and His laws. The sin/lawlessness of the heretics proved that they did not really know God or love Him (see, for example, 1 John:1:5, 6; 2:3-6; and 3:6-12). This verse further emphasizes the fact that Christians should not have any sin. They are not rebels against God.
1 John 3:5. “And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” First we’ll discuss the words, “And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins.” The Lord Jesus Christ takes away the sins of those who submit to Him in faith. In this context the emphasis is on the fact that He takes away sins in the sense that He sanctifies His people and makes them righteous, which includes the fact that they stop sinning (see, for example, 1 John 2:29; 3:3, 4, 6-12; 1:5-7; 9; 2:1-6). The words, “He appeared in order to take away sins” are probably parallel in meaning with the words, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy [or, do away with] the works of the devil” of 1 John 3:8.
In one sense we can think of the sins of man being “the works of the devil.” When people sin they are following the devil in his rebellion against God, and in a very real sense they yield to him and his kingdom and he works through them. This point of view makes it all the more obvious that Christians should not have any sins. Ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ will take away all sins from the earth so God’s kingdom can be fully established. For those who continue in rebellion against God, this will necessitate removal by judgment (see, for example, Matt. 13:41, 42).
Now we’ll briefly discuss the words at the end of verse 5, “and in Him there is no sin.” In Christ there never was any sin and never will be any sin, but it is also true that those who are in Him (those who abide in Him) are to be fully separate from all sin. In the next verse the apostle talks about our abiding in Christ. This is good news! God didn’t have these things written to condemn us, but so that we might be sanctified by His sufficient grace through faith.
1 John 3:6. “No one who abides in Him [in Christ] sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” First we’ll discuss the words, “No one who abides in Him sins.” These words build on verse 5. True Christians, by definition, abide in Christ. The heretics claimed they abided in God, but the apostle has informed us that they did not abide in Him. The ideal presented in this epistle (and throughout the New Testament) is that Christians are to walk in victory over all sin. I don’t believe the apostle would have us dilute this ideal except to acknowledge the possibility (not the necessity) of an occasional act of sin. We discussed this point when we discussed 1 John 2:1, also see 1 John 5:16, 17.
The Greek verb “hamartano” that is translated “sins” here in the first part of 3:6 is in the present tense. This Greek tense fits the idea that no one who abides in Christ can live in sin or be characterized by sin, and as we have discussed, the ideal presented in this epistle is that there should not be any sin at all. (A different Greek tense, the aorist tense, is used in 1 John 2:1, which we discussed when we discussed that verse.) The Greek verb translated “sins” here in the first half of 1 John 3:6 could be translated several different ways, including “keeps on sinning” with the NIV, “is a sinner” with the New English Bible, “lives in sin,” “practices sin,” “habitually sins,” or “[deliberately and knowingly] habitually commits (practices) sin” with the Amplified Bible.
Now we come to the words, “no one who sins” in the second part of 3:6. A Greek participle of hamartano in the present tense is used here. We could translate this participle several different ways, including “no one who continues to sin” with the NIV; “no one who lives in sin”; or, “no one who practices sin.” The present tense of hamartano is also used in 1 John 3:8 (“the devil has sinned from the beginning”) and in 1 John 3:9 (“and he cannot sin”; we’ll discuss these words in some detail when we come to verse 9).”
I’ll skip the next paragraph. As I have mentioned, I frequently modify what is written in the book for these radio broadcasts. The idea of practicing or continuing in sin (as in 1 John 3:4, 8, and 9, for example) is contrasted with the idea of practicing or continuing in righteousness. … The ideal is for Christians to always continue in righteousness and never sin. This ideal is presented again and again throughout the first epistle of John (and throughout the New Testament).
Now I’ll briefly comment on the words “no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” of 3:6. These words were aimed (at least for the most part) at the Gnostic heretics (see, for example, 1 John 3:7; 1:6; and 2:3-6).
1 John 3:7. (As I have mentioned, this is a very important verse.) “Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness [or, the one who is doing righteousness] is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous.” 1 John 2:29 is an important cross-reference, “If you know that He [God] is righteous [and we do know that, don’t we], you know that everyone also who practices righteousness [or, everyone who is doing righteousness] is born of Him.” God imparts His righteousness to His born-again children. The heretics (who were not practicing/doing righteousness) were trying to deceive John’s readers (see 1 John 2:26 and 2 John 1:7). There are many deceivers in our day too; we must be very careful who we listen to; in the worst case scenario, it could cost you your soul.
For the Christian to be righteous, just as God is righteous doesn’t leave room for sin (see, for example, 1 John 1:5-7 and 9; 2:6; and 3:3). This is the Christian ideal, and it is very important for us to understand this ideal. This verse makes it very clear that John is not speaking of a mere positional, legal, imputed righteousness. He is speaking of Christians actually living in righteousness through the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, this is good news! We greatly distort the gospel if we put most of the emphasis on positional, legal, imputed righteousness, as it so often happens in our day. Furthermore, he is not speaking of a gradual growth out of sin into righteousness.
1 John 3:8. “the one who practices sin [or, the one who is doing sin] is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” First we’ll discuss the words, “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” The one who practices sin (or, the one who is doing sin) is following the devil in his rebellion against God, is part of the devil’s kingdom, is motivated by the devil and demon spirits, and is a child of the devil (see, for example, 1 John 3:10, 12; Matt. 13:38; John 8:38. 41. 44; 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3; and 2 Tim. 2:26). According to the Scriptures, we cannot be neutral. If we are not faithful to God, we will be serving the devil to one degree or another.
As God enables His people to be righteous (see, for example, 1 John 2:29; 3:7), so the devil (and his demon spirits) work in the sons of disobedience (see Eph. 2:1-3, for example). This is not to say that those who are not submitted to God are totally controlled by the devil (most have considerable freedom), but his influence is very extensive.
Now we’ll discuss the words, “for the devil has sinned from the beginning” of 3:8. The devil has been sinning since the time of his fall, which took place before the fall of man (see Genesis chapter 3, for example). In the context of 1 John chapter 3, it is probable that the words “from the beginning” refer back to the time that mankind joined Satan in his rebellion against God. In one sense (as we have discussed) the sins of man are the sins (or you could say, the works) of the devil. (See under 1 John 3:5, and see on the second half of 1 John 3:8). To say this is not at all to say that people are not responsible for their sins.
Now we’ll discuss the words, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (of 1 John 3:8). As I mentioned under 1 John 3:5, we probably should equate these words with the words, “He appeared in order to take away sins” of 1 John 3:5. The Greek verb translated “destroy” here is “luo.” If we are going to equate the “sins” of 1 John 3:5 with the “works of the devil” of 1 John 3:8, then a translation like “do away with” would be preferable for luo here in verse 8. If we do not equate the “sins” of 1 John 3:5 with the “works of the devil,” the sins are at least included as part of “the works of the devil.” A major work of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout this present age is the removal of everything sinful from the hearts and lives of those who submit to Him and the gospel in faith. Ultimately (after His second coming), He will remove from God’s kingdom the devil and all who continue to follow him, and all the devil’s works.
We’re almost done with this arricle. I’ll read 1 John 2:29; 3:3, 4, 5-10, from the NIV: “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of Him. … (3) Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (4) Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (6) No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (7) Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (8) 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 [or, works, the noun is plural in the Greek]. (9) 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. (10) 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.”
God bless you! His name be glorified; His will be done; His will be done in us! In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen!