IV. Being a Child of God and Loving the Children of God (1 John 3:1-24)


IV. Being a Child of God and Loving the Children of God (3:1-24)

3:1 See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. Few verses in the Bible are more beautiful than this one. But to experience victory, you need to know who your Daddy is. This “Father” business isn’t mere religious talk or an attempt to tap into the power of positive thinking. If you are a Christian, you have a perfect heavenly Father who loves you and who doesn’t share any of the failures of your earthly father. What’s more, he’s the King of creation. You are royalty. Nevertheless, do not be surprised when the world rejects you; it rejected God’s Son because it didn’t know him either. You’re in good company. On the other hand, if the world loves you, that’s when you should worry.

3:2-3 We are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed (3:2). Your new spiritual life is currently invisible to the world. But at Christ’s return, you will be miraculously changed, and it will be manifest to all. At his appearing, the graves will be robbed, and we will be transformed with resurrected bodies. So look to him with this hope, and he will purify you inwardly as you await your outward renewal (3:3).

3:4-5 Everyone who commits sin practices lawlessness (3:4). When you sin, you’re a lawbreaker; it’s an act of rebellion against God. It doesn’t matter whether you sin one time or a thousand times. This is why the Son of God came: to take away sins. And only he is qualified for the job because there is no sin in him (3:5).

3:6-10 These verses have confused many, so let me be clear: If John is saying that Christians do not sin at all, then no one is saved. Even on your best Holy-Spirit led day, you still sin. In considering this passage, we need to remember that John is communicating to Christians about how to have intimacy with God.

Everyone who remains in him does not sin (3:6). John said “there is no sin in” Christ (3:5). Therefore, whoever remains or abides in him does not sin either. We are called to remain in him (2:6; John 15:5-7). So, the problem is this: when we sin, it’s because we’re not remaining in Christ. In 3:9, John says, Everyone who has been born of God does not sin. The reason is because God’s seed remains in him (3:9). “If anyone is in Christ,” Paul says, “he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). When you placed your faith in Jesus Christ, God gave you new life—which John describes as God’s “seed.” Every Christian is born again. This new spiritual life or seed is from God, so it is pure and sinless.

Why, then, do we still sin in thought, word, and deed even though we’d prefer not to? Because the old part of us (Paul calls our unredeemed humanity “the flesh”) is still contaminated by sin. Paul wrestles with this in Romans 7:13-25. The new life of Christ is planted in us in seed form, but we still bear the damage of sin in our souls. When Christ returns, the flesh will be completely eradicated, and we will be without sin. Until then, we must continually repent of sin, submit to God’s Word, and walk with the Spirit so that the seed of the new divine nature may grow (see 1 Pet 1:23; 2 Pet 1:4).

Don’t be deceived. The one who does what is right is righteous (3:7). The one who commits sin is of the devil (3:8). How, then, can a believer do what is right and commit sin in the space of a few seconds? Consider Peter. He boldly confessed that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus blessed him because God had revealed it to him (see Matt 16:13-17). However, in no time, Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” when he denied that Christ must suffer (Matt 16:21-23).

Throughout each day, your actions will either be influenced by God or the devil. Satan can’t make you sin, but he can entice you. So, to whom will you listen? Will you be “of the devil” so that he gets credit for your deeds? Or will you live by the truth, come to the light, and do works for which God gets the credit (see John 3:21)? Turn to Christ who can render powerless the devil’s works in your life (1 John 3:8). To avoid living a life that is not of God takes more than merely carrying your Bible and saying, “hallelujah.” It requires doing what is right and loving fellow believers in submission to the Holy Spirit (3:10).

3:11 How important is it to love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Imagine a patient claims to have the flu but has no symptoms. A doctor would say, “You don’t have the flu.” Similarly, the ultimate “symptom” or proof of your vertical intimacy with God is your horizontal love for his children. We should love one another. From the beginning, the apostles heard this message from Jesus himself (see John 13:35). Biblical love is not a mere emotion. Love is demonstrating selfless concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ in response to God’s grace to us. It is the decision to compassionately, righteously, and responsibly seek the well-being of another.

3:12-13 John points to biological brothers to illustrate this point about spiritual brothers. Cain . . . murdered his brother . . . because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous (3:12). Cain envied Abel’s acceptance by God, and it led him into hatred. Therefore, do not be surprised . . . if the world hates you (3:13). As Cain hated his brother because of his righteousness, many in the world will hate you for living righteously and loving others.

3:14-15 The one who does not love remains in death (3:14). Remember, John is writing to Christians who are saved. It’s possible, then, for a believer to operate in the realm of death. If a believer hates his brother, he is not remaining in Christ but remaining in death. Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer. To hate is to murder in your heart, and no murderer has eternal life residing in him (3:15). Notice that “residing” is the same Greek word translated in John as “abiding.” So again, he’s not referring to salvation but to enjoyment of the Christian life and intimacy with God. If you hate your fellow believers, you will not experience the blessings and fellowship of God.

3:16-17 John gave his readers a negative example (3:12). His positive example is the ultimate expression of love. Jesus laid down his life for us (3:16). Observe the love of Christ. First, he “laid down his life.” It was voluntary, a willing action. Second, it was “for us.” It was vicarious. He sacrificed in our place.

What are the implications for us? We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (3:16). Now, few of us will ever be faced with a scenario that would call upon us to give up our lives for others. That’s why John doesn’t leave it there. But if you see a fellow believer in need, remember that love expresses itself by providing for him (3:17). Meeting the needs of fellow Christians—whether physical, emotional, or financial—is the most practical demonstration of love and the most telling symptom of fellowship with God.

3:18-24 Beware of merely declaring your love with your mouth. We must not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth (3:18). What your lips proclaim, your life must support. God promises two things. First, if we love in action and truth, we will reassure our hearts . . . whenever our hearts condemn us (3:19-20). The idea here is that when your heart condemns you unjustifiably, God gives you peace or assurance. Biblical peace is inner tranquility regardless of external circumstances. When you serve other believers in love, God will calm your heart when you are in turmoil.

The second promise is that when we keep his commands (3:22)—that is, believe in Jesus Christ and love one another (3:23)—we will have confidence before God and receive whatever we ask from him (3:21-22). Lack of confidence is a tremendous stumbling block to prayer. But when you love others and act as an answer to their prayers, you can be confident that your Father will put things in motion to answer your prayer. To put this idea into an everyday expression: what goes around comes around. When this happens, you will remain in God, and he will remain in you by his Spirit (3:24). That’s intimacy.