2:28 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. 8 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. 9 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. 10 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.1 John 2:28-3:10
Today marks the end of the first half of our study of 1 John! It has been so good to slow down and take this book of the Bible section-by-section, making it as easily understood as possible. We have eaten our way through some tough portions of Scripture, sometimes taking a week or two to chew on them, but today’s passage is too rich to divide up. It’s a bit longer than usual, so we will not nibble through an introduction.
In this week’s passage, John uses the image of either being a child of God or a child of the devil. This refers to the characteristics of an individual being similar to their father. For the church, it should be apparent that God is our Father similar to the way that children are viewed as sharing similar traits to their parents. But walking through this passage is going to require us to ask tough questions of ourselves to make sure that we resemble the Father and not look like children of the adversary.
God’s Children are Characterized by Confidence
Our first verse this week (v. 2:28) is the same one we finished with in the last devotion. But I believe that we can dive into it a bit more. Look at the contrast between the phrases “have confidence” and “shrink from Him in shame”. Both of these are linked with the end of that sentence “at His coming”. In the context of being a child of God, I get the image of a child reacting to a parent returning home from work.
The ideal image would be like my nephew Caleb who, every time his dad walks outside, stands at the door with his hands up waiting for him to come back in and pick him up. Now, if he was a bit older and his mom told him something along the lines of “wait until your daddy gets home – you’re gonna get it”, he would likely avoid greeting or even being seen.
Throughout this passage, we are going to look at the dreaded subject of sin and what it means – both for children of God and children of the devil. But I think v. 2:28 very clearly sets the standard for God and His children that is put out in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”, resting and having confidence in our Father rather than trusting in what we did wrong or tried to accomplish on our own.
When you look to the Father, do you have confidence in what He has done or do you shrink in fear and shame at what you have done? Do you look at His coming return with hope and joy or with anxiety and fear?
God’s Children Practice What They Preach
I know that the phrase “practice what you preach” is loaded. It is often used as a response to a religious person acting wrongly. And that is why I want to use it here.
The word that is translated “practice” can also be translated as “perform”, “behave”, or “make oneself out to be”, and making our practice as Christians into a performance or a behavior is part of the problem. We often try to make ourselves out to be something in order to show the world something or convince others or ourselves about something. I believe the best alternate translation is “produce”, “yield”, or “bear”.
Jesus Himself uses this exact word in the context of those words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. You may notice that we cited the first few verses in this section in last week’s devotion:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”Matthew 7:15-20
Jesus uses the same Greek word that John uses as “practices” five times in that one paragraph, and, if we truly want to understand the Word better, there is no better person to have interpret it for us than Jesus Himself! So, when John says “practices righteousness” in vv. 2:29, 3:7, and 3:10, he does so like he would discuss an apple tree bearing apples. It also means that when he says “makes a practice of sinning” (vv. 3:7, 8, 9) and “practices lawlessness” (v. 3:7) that he does so in the same manner. Just as apple trees bear apples, those who are born again (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:3) are children of God and bear the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who are spiritually dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1) bear the fruit of sinful flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) and reflect the heritage of sin that mirrors the rebellion of Satan against God (John 8:44).
This is an opportunity to look at our own lives and test whether or not we “walk in the Spirit” or “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Are you able to see the fruit of the Spirit in your practices, or are you trying to bring your own plans and desires into fruition?
God’s Children Reflect His Righteousness
We must be careful here because we run the risk of falling into the same heresies that the antichrists and false teachers were spreading to John’s original audience. The specific brand of heresy that they were spreading is known as Gnosticism where they believed that knowledge could save people. As we talked about at length a few weeks ago, anything that twists or purposefully alters the gospel is not of the Spirit of God but of a spirit of antichrist. One of the things that gnostics believed that is particularly appealing to sinful people is their beliefs that sin was not harmful for those who have become intellectually enlightened and that they were perfect as they are. Both of these are dangerous. One the one hand, God alone is sinless and perfect, and He alone – as the sovereign, all-powerful Creator of the universe – defines what is and is not sinful.
Furthermore, we have to have a complete view of sin here. This is why context is so needed and why walking through a whole book is helpful to us when trying to understand the Word of God better. Everything that John says here in chapter 3 (his original letter did not have chapters and verses anyway) cannot be interpreted apart from what was already written in chapters 1 and 2. Let us look back at a few verses that are extremely important to get this part correct:
- John 1:8: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
- John 2:1: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
Both of these are important here because, 1) they show the danger of false teachings regarding sin and salvation, and 2) how, even though we are to strive to follow Jesus and live following the example He laid out with His life and in His Word, He knows our limitations and has borne the burden of our sin Himself as our propitiation (ch. 2:2) so that we can find cleansing and justification in Him (ch. 1:9).
This is good news for us because we are incapable of being righteous on our own (Romans 3:10) and need Jesus to be righteous for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we follow after Him, we find that practicing righteousness becomes part of our way of life. It stops being about doing good deeds to earn salvation or to make ourselves look like something we are not and becomes simply being about what He is about.
We no longer find ourselves making “a practice of sinning” because He has changed us from the inside out, bringing us from death to life (Ephesians 2:4-5) and transplanting our hearts of stone with hearts that live and beat for Him alone (Ezekiel 36:26). This is even seen in how John defines sin here – “lawlessness” (v. 3:4). Most of the time, the words referring to sin in the New Testament have negative consequences (hamartia, sin, which is an archery term meaning to miss the target; adikia, unrighteousness, meaning to not do what is known to be right and good; and paraptoma, tresspasses or transgressions, meaning getting off of the right path), but, in this passage, John’s saying that “sin is lawlessness (anomia)” basically describes being in active rebellion against God. This is important because it explains all of the talk John makes about those who are “children of the devil” (v. 3:10).
I know this has been a lot, but I want to sum up what we have been talking about this week with a closer look at the illustration that John gives in talking about the different children (of God or the devil).
Two verses from this section are key to our understanding how this applies to our lives. The first verse is 3:3 which says, “everyone who hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure”. This is the reason that children of God are characterized by righteousness. It is not because we are better than other sinners because we are not – the difference is Christ’s righteousness. It is not because we have something to prove or earn. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation, and Christ’s life, death, and resurrection prove it. Just like the quirks and qualities that come together to make me Just Keith come largely in part to my parents and my upbringing, the way that our lives gradually become more like Christ is because we learn to “walk in Him” because we are “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [we] were taught” (Colossians 2:6-7). Our hope stems from what He has already done in His first coming and leads us to walk in the hope that He is coming back as He promised.
The second verse 3:8 which clarifies the relationship between one who “makes a practice of sinning” like “the devil [who] has been sinning from the beginning” and Jesus coming in order “to destroy the works of the devil”. Simply put, if we are making a practice of sinning – not committing individual sins but habitually continuing a purposeful pattern of keeping sin going – we are working against Christ. We cannot seek to continue building up what He is actively tearing down and be of Him.
This passage has caused me to look at and evaluate my life and choices that I make on a regular basis. That makes it hard. But hard questions are good so long as they produce good answers. It is good for those of us who identify as children of God to check our walks by His Word. The good news is that, should we find that we are not His children, we can be because all who “receive Him, who [believe] in His name, He [gives] the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And the way you do it is laid out simply in Scripture. If you want to be a child of God, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
As always, I love you and am praying for you.