1 John teaches that Christians Are to be Pure and Righteous just as the Son of God is Pure and Righteous, Part 3
by Karl Kemp
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Part 3 of this three-part paper begins with 1 John 3:3.
1 JOHN 3:3. 1 John 2:28-3:12 are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" and in Article #s 17, 18 in my paper "Twenty-Eight Articles on Holiness and Victory Over Sin." We will just discuss 1 John 3:3 and 7 in this present article, but quite a few other verses from 1 John 2:28-3:12 (also see 1 John 5:18, 19; these verses are discussed in my paper on John chapters 13-17 on my internet site and in Parts 8 and 9 of that paper on this Christian article site) also make it quite clear that Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to walk in the righteousness of God with the victory over all sin. Again, this is good news if we hear it right! Believing (having faith in) in the truth will set us free through the powerful saving grace of God in Christ, and in the ideal case we will begin to dwell in an abiding state of righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin. God didn't say these things to condemn us, but to transform us. We cannot have faith to walk in the righteousness of God with the victory over all sin unless we can see (clearly see) in God's Word that He has called and enabled us to walk this way. This is what every true Christian wants. No true Christian wants to rebel against God and continue in sin, any sin.
"And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him [[hope fixed on the Lord Jesus. The apostle is speaking of the hope of being glorified, which will enable us, for one thing, "to see Him [the Lord Jesus] just as He is" (1 JOHN 3:2; cf., e.g., John 17:24). (The word "hope" does not infer doubt; all true Christians will inherit the promised salvation, but the things hoped for are still future for us.) After we are glorified we will be "conformed to the image of His Son [Christ Jesus]" (Rom. 8:29; cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 15:49-53; Col. 1:5, 27; 3:1-4; and Phil. 3:20, 21). After we are glorified at the time of Christ's return, we will be able to see the Lord Jesus just as He is, and we will begin to reign with Him in a never-ending reign. (We will be conformed to the image of God the Son and reign with Him, but we will not become deity in any sense. We will worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.) It is also true, and very significant, that we will be able to see God the Father (cf., e.g., Matt. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:12; and Rev. 22:3-5).]] PURIFIES HIMSELF, JUST AS HE IS PURE [my emphasis]." "He" in this verse (Greek "ekeinos"; it could be translated "that One") refers to the Lord Jesus; ekeinos also refers to the Lord Jesus in 1 John 2:6; 3:5, 7, 16 and 4:17. The same Greek verb for purify ("hagnizo") that is used here is used in James 4:8 ("Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse [Greek "katharizo"] your hands you sinners; and purify [hagnizo] your hearts, you double minded.") and in 1 Pet. 1:22 ("Since you have in obedience to the truth purified [hagnizo] your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart."). I'll also quote 2 Cor. 7:1, which is another powerful verse that uses katharizo for cleanse, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves [as required] from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting [or completing] holiness in the fear of God [we should be afraid to sin against God]." Katharizo is used in a few other verses with the same powerful meaning, including 1 John 1:7 and 9 (see my book and Article #s 15 and 16 of my "Twenty-Eight Articles on Holiness and Victory Over Sin" on these verses).
I believe the apostle John was 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 is the ideal: We stop sinning and begin to walk in the truth, purity, righteousness, and holiness of God when we become Christians. What a glorious ideal! And God's grace is sufficient! WE MUST AIM AT THAT TARGET! We must understand, of course, that we are totally dependent on the grace of God in Christ to make ourselves pure (or holy, righteous, clean, etc.). God must receive all the glory for every aspect of our salvation. The fact that we are required to appropriate and cooperate with God's saving grace in Christ doesn't do away with the Bible fact that we are saved 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ. We do not earn salvation in any of its aspects by our faith, or by the works the grace of God (which includes all the work of the Holy Spirit) enables us to do, and which we are required to do.
We walk in the truth, 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 we Christians are required to purify ourselves (by the grace of God in Christ Jesus) and TO BE PURE JUST AS THE LORD JESUS (GOD THE SON) IS PURE. How could you have a more powerful (somewhat shocking) call to righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin? This verse (1 John 3:3) by itself, should suffice to demonstrate that the apostle John was not denying that Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to walk with the total victory over all sin in this present life in 1 John 1:8.
1 JOHN 3:7. "Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness [or, THE ONE WHO IS DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS] IS RIGHTEOUS, JUST AS HE [Greek "ekeinos," referring to the Lord Jesus, as in 1 John 2:6; 3:3, 5, 16; and 4:17] IS RIGHTEOUS [my emphasis]." 1 John 2:29 is an important cross-reference, "If you know that HE [[God the Father; it is possible that "He" refers to Christ here [some believe it does]; but if so, it seems clear that "Him" at the end of the sentence refers to God the Father]] IS RIGHTEOUS [[my emphasis; and we do know that the Lord Jesus and God the Father are totally righteous (with no sin), don't we?]], you know that everyone also who practices righteousness [or, EVERYONE WHO IS DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS] IS BORN OF HIM [my emphasis]." On being born of God the Father, see 1 John 3:1, 9; 4:7; and 5:1, 4, and 18. God imparts His righteousness to His born-again children. The heretics (who were not doing righteousness) were trying to deceive John's readers (see 1 John 2:26; cf. 1 John 1:8; 2 John 1:7).
The heretics, who had been deceived by the evil one (one way, or another), thought that they were believing the truth and that they were righteous, but they were wrong, and if you listened to them you would be deceived and abandon the truth, like Eve was deceived and abandoned the truth. 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; 2:5, 6; 3:3; and 4:12, 17, 18). 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 (doing) righteousness through the powerful saving grace of God in Christ. Again, this is good news! THE NEW TESTAMENT GIVES US A SUPER-SOLID BASIS FOR FAITH FOR VICTORY OVER ALL SIN! WE MUST AIM AT THAT TARGET! 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, the apostle is not speaking of a gradual growth out of sin into righteousness while never attaining a state of righteousness or holiness with the victory over all sin this side of glory, which is the most common view taught in our day. This is what most Christians mean by "process of sanctification." We need to keep growing, but in the ideal case we will be living in an abiding state of righteousness and holiness. That sounds good, doesn't it? That's what we want, isn't it? WE MUST AIM AT THAT TARGET!
I'll quote a paragraph from "The Letters of John the Apostle," by Donald W. Burdick (Moody Press, 1985), page 241. "It may well be that John wrote this warning because the Asian [Burdick is referring to the Roman province that included the city of Ephesus] believers were threatened by heretical teachers who claimed to be righteous simply because of professed esoteric knowledge. [[It is clear that some heretical teachers were trying to deceive John's original readers (cf. 1 John 2:26, for example) and that they were not living righteous lives (according to the righteous requirements presented in the New Testament). The Gnostics believed they were saved by their secret, esoteric, knowledge. The heretical viewpoints that John was combating probably included the ideas that it doesn't matter what we do with our bodies (for one thing, physical matter is evil), and that keeping the commandments in the Bible is child-play religion (their high-level spirituality did away with such mundane requirements).]] Theirs was not a righteousness of life; instead their conduct was marked by continual sin. John's warning against being led astray seems to suggest that this was the case. In response to such teaching he points out what genuine righteousness is. It is more than position or standing: it is conduct. The one who is truly righteous is the one who is consistently performing righteous deeds. [[The apostle is speaking of our doing righteousness and not sinning, by the saving grace of God through faith!]] Righteousness is not merely a matter of position; it is of necessity also a matter of life." We must believe (have faith in) the truth, and we must live the truth by the saving grace of God in Christ, on a continuous basis.
How we live is totally relevant to what Christianity is all about, along with believing the truth! In our day you often hear that we just need to believe (to have faith in) the truth of the gospel. For one thing, you don't really believe the gospel if you aren't living in line with the gospel. Believing in God, Christ, and the gospel includes a commitment to live for God, Christ, and in line with the gospel (by God's enabling grace in Christ). This is extremely important! And there is much confusion on this topic. I'll quote what I said under 1 Peter 1:17 in my recent article on 1 Peter 1:13-19; 2:24, 25:
1 PETER 1:17. "And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth." We Christians do address God as Father; we are His born-again children. In 1 Pet. 1:3, 23 Peter spoke of our being "born again"; and in 1:14 he spoke of our being "children of obedience." Knowing that God will judge us according to our "work" should provide very strong motivation for us to live in His righteousness and holiness (by His sufficient grace through faith).
God does not just overlook our sin because we are Christians. It is a serious matter for God's born-again children to rebel and sin against Him. If it really is sin, it is a serious matter! He expects more from us because of the grace He has given us. The righteousness and holiness of God are imparted to us through the saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ, which includes the work of the Spirit of God who dwells in all born-again Christians (Rom. 8:9); we receive and walk in these things by faith. (See Eph. 2:8-10; Gal. 5:16-18, 22-25; and Titus 2:14, for example.)
Since God will impartially judge each person according to their work, He will not show partiality to any, including Christians. The "work" we do, shows what is in our hearts. Faith without works is dead; it isn't saving faith. It must be understood that the good "work" we do as born-again new creations and by the indwelling Spirit of God is the "work" of God, and He gets the glory for the righteousness and holiness that is manifested in our lives. "For we are His [God the Father's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). It is true, of course, as I mentioned, that forgiveness is provided for Christians when we repent, but Christianity is about much more than forgiveness. If "Christians" are characterized by sin, they will be condemned (see Matt. 3:1-12; 7:13-27; 16:24-27; John 5:28, 29; Rom. 2:1-16; 6:21-23; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Eph. 5:5-7; Col. 3:5-7; Rev. 21:7, 8; and 22:12-15, for example).
I'll quote REVELATION 22:12-15, which is the last passages I just listed. I'll quote these verses from the NIV. The Lord Jesus Christ is speaking here. "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward [My recompense] is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done [according to his works]. (13) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. [[These words strongly confirm the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, along with verses like John 1:1-5; 20:28; and Heb. 1:1-3, 8-10.]] (14) Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city [the city of God's new Jerusalem]. (15) Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." "Those who wash their robes" are the ones who cleanse themselves and become sanctified through the sanctifying blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God, which is backed up by the all-powerful Spirit of God (see Rev. 7:14; 19:8, for example).
I'll also quote Rev. 2:5, where the Lord Jesus was speaking to the Christians at Ephesus about AD 95 (what He said to those Christians applies to all Christians who are in the same situation): "Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and DO THE DEEDS [[WORKS. The Greek noun used here ("ergon") is translated "work" or "works" 96 times by the NASB and as "deed" or "deeds" 65 times, and other ways; "ergon" was used in Rev. 22:12 (which was quoted in the last paragraph): a more literal translation of the last words of 22:12 would be "to each as his work [ergon] is."]] YOU DID AT FIRST; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent." (my capitalization for emphasis) If the Lord Jesus removes the lampstand from a church, that church is no longer part of the Body of Christ.
THESE VERSES CERTAINLY DEMONSTRATE THAT GOD TAKES NOTE OF OUR WORKS; WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE REQUIRED; IN OTHER WORDS A RIGHTEOUS LIFESTYLE IS REQUIRED. As the apostle James (not one of the twelve; see Gal. 1:19) said, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). Saving faith will necessarily result in righteousness and holiness, as we walk by the Word of God and the Spirit of God, which we are required to do on a continuous basis.
The apostle Paul would agree that Christians must have the righteous works (a righteous lifestyle) that the grace of God (by the indwelling Spirit of God) enables us to do. (See Eph. 2:10; 5:1-21, for example.) Christians are required to live in the righteousness of God, which includes thinking right in our hearts and doing righteous works (by His grace through faith).
I frequently hear Christians (including ministers) say that we are not required to have works, but they are wrong! How desperately we need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches! The apostle Paul said we are saved by faith, not works, but he didn't mean that we can be saved without the works that the grace of God enables us to do. The apostle was against works (very much including works of the Mosaic Law) without faith in Christ. He didn't leave any room for salvation that was not built on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death and resurrection (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 3:10, 11). He was against bringing the ceremonial works of the old covenant into the new covenant, ceremonial works like circumcision, or dietary laws, for example (cf. e.g., Rom. 2:26-29; Gal. 2:16; 5:1-12; 6:12-15). He was against works of the flesh being done for the glory of man or to try to earn/merit the salvation that God freely gives in Christ; God must receive all the glory for our salvation, including for the good works that we do as His new creations in Christ and by His grace, which very much includes the work of the indwelling Spirit (cf., e.g., Rom. 3:27, 28; 4:2, 4; 11:6, 33-36; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 1:6; 2:12, 13; 3:9; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4-7). Salvation in all of its aspects is of grace (by faith), not what is earned/merited/owed.
I recommend reading my foundational paper "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" that is available on my internet site and in six parts on this Christian article site. I'll list the section headings of that paper: 1. Introduction; 2. Christians are Enabled, and Required, TO KEEP THE LAW OF GOD; Including the Law Contained in the Old Testament, Excluding the Ceremonial Law; 3. Christians Are Enabled, and Required, TO KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS of God/Christ; 4. Christians Are Enabled, and Required, TO OBEY God/Christ (including His Word/Law/commandments); 5. Christians Are Enabled, and Required, TO LIVE/WALK IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, which means living/walking in the will of God, according to His Word/Law/Commandments; 6. Christians Are Enabled, and Required, TO BE HOLY/TO LIVE IN HOLINESS, which Includes Living in the Will of God, According to His Word/Law/Commandments; 7. Christians Are Enabled TO DO THE WORKS that Are Required According to God's Word/Law/Commandments, by His grace/Spirit through faith; the works aren't optional; 8. Doesn't the New Testament Teach that the Mosaic Law/Old Covenant Has Been Set Aside and that Christians Aren't Under this Law? And Doesn't it Teach that No One Will Be Justified by Doing Works of the Law?; and 9. Legalism. Romans 2:1-16 are discussed in that paper. Romans 2:6 says "who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS [WORKS]." I recommend reading what I said under Rom. 2:1-16, especially under verse 6. (Romans 2:1-16 are discussed in Part 2 of "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" on this Christian article site.) I also recommend reading my foundational "A Paper on Faith" that is available on my internet site; extensive excerpts from that paper are available on this Christian article site.
I'll quote 1 Pet. 1:17 again, "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth." Those who know that they will face the judgment of God must "conduct themselves in [reverent] fear [before Him; we should fear rebelling and sinning against God]," living in His righteousness and holiness, always staying fully ready for the return of Christ and the day of judgment. Such things as correct doctrine (though necessary), godly parents, or the externals of religion will not prepare us to stand before God any more than they sufficed for the children of Israel (see Matt. 3:7-10; John 8:31-47; and Rom. 2:1-29, for example).
"Christians" could be rejected on the day of judgment (see Matt. 7:13-27, for example). It is also true that a Christian could make it to heaven but lose rewards because of living by the flesh in certain areas (see 1 Cor. 3:5-15, for example). It is a serious matter for Christians to be unfaithful to God, and we must have a reverent fear regarding this matter. We will all have to answer to God (see Rom. 14:10-12, for example). The Bible shows that we must have a healthy fear of all sin (see Matt. 10:28; Luke 1:50; 12:5; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 2:12; Heb. 4:1; and 1 Pet. 2:17, for example).
May this paper accomplish all the purposes of God and be a significant blessing to the Body of Christ. In Jesus' name!
© Copyright by Karl Kemp
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