We are continuing our study of 1 John 3:4-10 this morning. Last week we did an overview of these verses and now I want to go back and work through them verse by verse. Commenting on these verses, the IVP New Testament Commentary states, “Because of their absolute and emphatic nature, these statements pose a great challenge to interpretation.” That is putting it mildly. We talked last week about how difficult this section is, and I gave you eight different views of this text.
Do you remember which view I said was the most popular? It is the Habitual Sin View. This is also the predominant view among those who hold to Lordship Theology because it supports that teaching. They argue that 3:6-9 is saying that those born of God cannot sin habitually. This view is based upon the use of present tense forms of the verbs in 3:6-9 concerning sinning. It is argued the tense denotes habitual sinning. Many of the modern translations reflect this view. Sadly, the ESV adopts it as well.
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 1 John 3:6 ESV
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. 1 John 3:9 ESV
As I said last week, the adding of the words “keeps on” or “makes a practice of” is not justified by Greek grammar. My favorite Lordship writer, John MacArthur, holds this Habitual Sin View. Commenting on these verses, he writes, “John the apostle wrote 1 John, as we know. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John wrote an epistle that deals with the issue of who is really a Christian.” He goes on to say, “But John is concerned for us to understand how to identify a true Christian.”
The only thing that can be said for certain about the intended readers based on the content of the letter itself is that they were Christians.
These things I did write to you who are believing in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that life ye have age-during, and that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God. 1 John 5:13 YLT
So even though we do not know much about the first recipients of this epistle, we do know something very important about them--they were believers. Unlike the Fourth Gospel that was written to bring people to faith in Christ, this epistle is written to those who have already trusted Christ. It instructs them on how to have fellowship with Yeshua and the Father. I see the purpose of this letter as fellowship. John wrote this epistle to enable believers to appreciate and deepen their fellowship with Yahweh.
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Yeshua the Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:3-4 ESV
This verse introduces the purpose of the Epistle: "So that you too may have fellowship with us.” This is a hina purpose clause with a present active subjunctive. The main theme of the Epistle is fellowship with God. What we need to understand here is that John expresses this idea in various ways in this epistle. The phrase, "To have fellowship with Yahweh," is found only in 1:3 and 6. One of John’s most common phrases is to be "in Him" (2:5; 5:20) or "abide in him" (2:6, 24; 3:24; 4:13, 15, 16). Another expression for fellowship with God found only in John is "to have God” or “to have the Son” (1 John 2:23; 5:12; 2 John 9). And "to know God" has the same idea. It occurs in the perfect tense in 2:3 (cf. 2:5); 2:13, 14 (cf. 1:3) with the same meaning.
John MacArthur goes on to say, “Unless a person, John says — and other writers of the Bible — unless a person confesses sin, repents of sin, obeys the Word of God, walks as Christ walks, loves brethren, doesn’t love the world, lives righteously, that person is not a Christian no matter what they claim. I don’t know why people have so much trouble trying to sort out who Christians are.”
People have trouble sorting out who Christians are because of definitions like this. This would be the ideal of what a Christian should be but not many Christians live like this, so according to John MacArthur, they are not Christians. All that this kind of teaching does is to cause believers to doubt their salvation. John Eleazar is not giving us a test to see who is a Christian. He is telling those who are already Christians how to have fellowship with Yahweh.
This passage, 1 John 3:4-9, consists of two short parallel sections, each of which contains three things:
1. A definition of sin (vv. 4, 8); Sin is lawlessness (v. 4); Sin is of the devil (v. 8)
2. A statement about the purpose of Christ's work (vv. 5, 8) Christ came to take away sins (v. 5); Christ came to destroy the devil's works (v. 8b)
3. A statement about the implications of Christ's work for the Christian life (vv. 6, 9). No one who abides in Christ sins (v. 6); No one who is born of God sins (v. 9).
Let’s remember that in 1 John 3, John is writing with two distinct and radically different groups of people in mind. This is clear from the first verse:
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. 1 John 3:1 ESV
We see two groups here, the first one being the “children of God” and the second one being the “world.” As seen in verse 10, the term, "the world," means "the children of the devil." With that in mind, let’s look at the text,
And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure. 1 John 3:3 CSB
“Everyone who has this hope in him”—this is equivalent to John’s expression “whoever believes in Him.” In Greek, the grammatical structures are the same: pas ho followed by the participle [here echon; elsewhere, pisteuon; e.g. 1 John 5:1; John 3:15-16; 6:40]). The individual who has the sure hope of being like the Savior is one who has believed in him. [Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John, page 126]
“Purifies himself just as he is pure”—the phrase “purifies himself” should be noted. It points to the causality of the believer’s faith in Christ. When a person responds to the gospel message by believing it, he can be said to cause the purification which automatically follows as part and parcel of “the washing [Greek: loutron, ‘bath’] of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). [Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John, page 126]
I believe that this is teaching that to have this hope is to have believed in him, and to have believed in him is to be purified. The only way that we can be as pure as he is pure is to have his righteousness. And this righteousness was the believer’s prior to the coming of Christ only in an “already but not yet” form.
Then he contrasts those who have a purifying hope with those who are lawless:
1. A definition of sin:
Everyone who commits sin practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 CSB
The word “sin” was last used in 2:12, but now we have a succession of five verses in which it is repeatedly used (ten times). I said last week that Colin G. Kruse claims that anomia may be the key to a correct translation of this passage. Most translators make this sound like a disregard for the Law. Notice how the Complete Jewish Bible renders this:
Everyone who keeps sinning is violating Torah—indeed, sin is violation of Torah. 1 John 3:4 CJB
This is what may be called the root fallacy--making etymology, rather than usage, the key to a word’s meaning. Etymology is the dictionary definition of a word. In exegesis, usage always takes precedent over etymology. The reason for this is because word meanings change. Therefore, to find the meaning of anomia (lawlessness), we want to find its usage.
The word “anomia” occurs only here in the Epistle, and the word “law” (nomos) is completely absent. This makes it hard to understand why John would introduce the idea of lawbreaking at this point.
We often associate sin with breaking the Law and that is true. Paul says,
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 ESV
"Through the Law comes knowledge of sin"—the preposition "through" (Greek, dia) implies that the Law is the instrument of knowing or realizing or recognizing our sin. The Law tells us what sin is; it spells it out.
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Romans 7:7 ESV
Once the Law was given, each act or attitude could then be labeled as a transgression of this or that commandment of the Law. So, sin is a transgression of the Law. But that is not what John is telling us. He is talking about a specific kind of sin when he uses the word anomia.
In the Septuagint translation of the Tanakh, we find anomia used to translate no less than twenty-four different Hebrew words. The most frequent one is the Hebrew awon for which English words like “wickedness” or “iniquity” are good equivalents. In the Septuagint’s more than 220 occurrences of anomia, it is clear that an utterly despicable transgression is denoted. Such as in:
But when it was morning, the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise and take thy wife, and thy two daughters whom thou hast, and go forth; lest thou also be destroyed with the iniquities of the city. Genesis 19:15 Brenton
The writers of the Septuagint used the Greek word anomia here to refer to the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. What sin are they referring to by the word anomia? Jude answers this question for us.
just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Jude 1:7 ESV
The word “likewise” here is the Greek word homoios, which means: "like, resembling, similarly, of equal degree or manner and denoting perfect agreement." What he is saying is that Sodom and Gomorrah sinned “like” the angels of verse 6. He is linking their sin to a sexual sin, and that is Genesis 6.
So, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah did essentially the same thing the angels did. They left their normal place. They "indulged in sexual immorality"—"sexual immorality" is from the Greek word ekporneuo; from ek, which means: "out or from" and "porneuo," which means: "to commit fornication or lewdness. It indicates a heightened form of sexual immorality."
He also says that they "pursued unnatural desire"—the word "pursued" is from the Greek aperchomai, which is from apó, meaning: "separation" and "érchomai," meaning: "come or go." It literally means to go away or to depart, but it is used in a metaphorical sense. Vincent says, "The force of apo' is away; turning away from purity, and going after strange flesh." Aperchomai is an aorist participle indicating "having gone." Aperchomai is followed by the word opiso, which means: "after, a position behind, back." In Mark 1:20 it is used of James and John leaving their father and going after Yeshua. And in John 12:19 it is used in the phrase, "The world is gone after him." The compound expression "went after" (apechomai opiso) indicates a departure from the established order in nature to follow a practice contrary to nature. Deserting the established male-female relationship, they deliberately pursued a relationship with "unnatural desire."
What is interesting here is that "unnatural desire," which is "sarkos heteras" cannot be a reference to homosexuality for several reasons. First, homosexuality is not the pursuit of "hetero" or different gender, it is the pursuit of "homo" or same gender. Secondly, homosexual behavior involves the same human male flesh, not different flesh as it would with angels. Thirdly, when the New Testament refers to the unnaturalness of homosexual acts, it uses the Greek phrase, "para physin," which means: "contrary to nature"(Romans 1:26).
So, Jude is telling us that those in Sodom and Gomorrah "indulged in sexual immorality," which was homosexuality, and they "pursued unnatural desire," which was interspecies sexuality between angels and humans. It is with this sin, interspecies sexuality, that the writers of the Septuagint used the Greek word anomia.
And this is all Israel, even their enrolment: and these are written down in the book of the kings of Israel and Juda, with the names of them that were carried away to Babylon for their transgressions. 1 Chronicles 9:1 Brenton
Here we are told that it was because of anomia (transgressions) that God’s people were captives in Babylon.
In the New Testament anomia is used 18 times in 13 verses. And if you look them all up, you will see that they are a specific sin which is often contrasted with righteousness. I would say that anomia, by its New Testament usage, is referring to the sin of unbelief. That anomia can be referring to the sin of unbelief is seen in Yeshua’s words in Matthew 7.
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:23 ESV
Here Yeshua tells those committing anomia to depart from Him because He never knew them.
The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness. Matthew 13:41 CSB
All those who are guilty of anomia will be removed from the kingdom.
In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:28 CSB
Here righteousness and anomia are contrasted. This contrast is also found in 2 Corinthians 6.
Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 CSB
In this verse, we see that those who do not believe are anomia. I would encourage you to look up the rest of the uses of anomia in the New Testament for yourself. You will find that it is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7 to describe “the man of lawlessness.” This and other references suggest that the word signifies rebellion against the will of God. To commit this sin is thus to place oneself on the side of the devil and the antichrist and to stand in opposition to Christ.
The only other use in the New Testament of the phrase, “everyone who commits sin,” (1 John 3:4) is spoken by Yeshua Himself (John 8:34).
Yeshua responded, “Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. John 8:34 CSB
Yeshua is talking here to the Pharisees who do not believe in Him. They are slaves of sin.
All ten of the uses of sin in this text could be referring to anomia--the sin of unbelief, the sin of rebellion against the will of God. But, maybe verse 6 uses sin in a general way. We will talk about that in a minute.
2. A statement about the purpose of Christ's work:
You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 1 John 3:5 ES
“You know”—in other words, he appeals to common knowledge. The particular knowledge involved here, that Yeshua came to take away sins, is so basic to apostolic preaching that the readers must have been very familiar with it. It is part of the Gospel message that they received from the beginning.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 1 John 1:1-2 ESV
That he appeared, (i.e. that he was made manifest) was what they had heard from the beginning.
"He appeared"—this is an aorist passive indicative which speaks of Yeshua’s incarnation. The same verb, phaneroō, is used twice in verse 2 of His Second Coming. But here it is referring to Yeshua’s incarnation—His becoming a man.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV
Notice here that the Word was God. Now look at verse 14:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV
The Word which was God “became flesh and dwelt among us”.
This knowledge of Christ’s appearing would go against the gnostic claims. These false teachers were coming in, and they were teaching a dualist doctrine. “Dualism,” in case you do not know, is the false teaching that the flesh, the material world, is essentially evil, while the spiritual world is righteous and good. From that understanding, the Gnostics concluded that one’s evil body would be burned up in the end. Therefore, it did not matter what a person did in the flesh because the flesh would ultimately perish. Only the spirit lives on. As long as you are all right in your spirit, you can do whatever you like in the flesh. Another name for this was “antinomianism.” It was a reaction against the Judaizers who came into the church and taught the necessity of keeping the Law of Moses, (e.g. the ceremonial and ritual law, rules, and regulations). In reaction to this, the gnostics swung like a pendulum over to the other extreme and said, “No, we are not going to keep any rules, including the rules of the word of God and even the New Testament rules and principles of Christ. All that matters is the spiritual realm. We can indulge the flesh.”
Incidentally, the Dualists denied that Christ had come in the flesh. Instead, they believed that Christ had to have been some kind of phantom or ghost because the material, the flesh, is evil. How could God's Son partake of evil? They denied the incarnation, and they denied that Christ actually died and physically rose again.
“He appeared in order to take away sins”—Luke wrote that Yeshua’s purpose in coming was to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10). Matthew implied the purpose of Yeshua’s coming in his interpretation of the name Yeshua:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 ESV
The basic fact in all of these expressions is that Yeshua has done something for man which man could not do for himself.
“He appeared in order to take away sins”—this is the same verb as when John the Baptist saw Yeshua and proclaimed:
The next day he saw Yeshua coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 ESV
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”—John is telling us "how" Yeshua will bring salvation and redemption to mankind, not as a warrior like David, but as the lamb of sacrifice for the people. The Children of Israel understood a lamb as a sacrifice, and they abhorred human sacrifice. Yahweh had forbidden the practice, and now this young priest/prophet has identified this man as a sacrifice for the sins of the people and as the Messiah, the "chosen One of God."
"Lamb of God"—means "provided by God." In other words, the Lamb of God is the lamb provided by God and "of God" in the sense that He is the origin of the gift of the lamb. This is what Abraham said to his son Isaac as they were on their way to the top of Mount Moriah. Isaac asked, "My father," and Abraham said, "Here am I, my son." And he said, "Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" And Abraham said:
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. Genesis 22:8 ESV
Yahweh did provide the Lamb in the person of the Lord Yeshua.
“He appeared in order to take away sins”—“take away" signifies "atonement, and that by substitution." He is a Substitute that dies under the penalty of sin. So, He is a penal substitute, a substitute who bears the penalty that was due to others. He died so that sinners who trust in Him will not incur God's judgment. "Take away" is also in the present tense, signifying the ongoing sufficiency of Yeshua's sacrifice.
What sin is He taking away? Primarily sin of unbelief. Yeshua said,
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; John 16:8-9 ESV
That is the essence of the sin. Sin is unbelief. That is the reason Adam fell. He fell and Eve fell before they ever took of the fruit. They fell in failure to believe the word of God, and as a result of that, they reached out and took of the fruit. Sin is unbelief.
“And in him there is no sin”—that Yeshua was himself without sin is the consistent testimony of the New Testament:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 ESV
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 1 Peter 2:22 ESV
Yeshua’s sinlessness is the basis for His vicarious, substitutionary atonement on our behalf (Isaiah 53). Just as the sacrificial animal had to unblemished, so also Christ, as the sacrificial lamb, could only fulfill the necessary precondition of his atoning efficacy if He were sinless. A prophecy of Isaiah hints at this in speaking of the Suffering Servant as one who “had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (53:9).
How do we conceive of Christ without sin? One individual writes, “How do we conceive of him as without sin? He is before us as one in whom there is no sympathy with what is vile and polluting; or with what is mean and base; or with what is unfair and untrue; or with what is dishonorable and unhandsome; or with what is unkind, ungenerous, unloving. Not a thought, not a feeling, not an affection is in him that could offend the purest taste, the most fastidious delicacy. Benevolence without the slightest alloy of selfishness; integrity such as the breath of suspicion cannot touch; seraphic mildness, sweetness, calmness, that no storm of passion has ever ruffled; a soul attuned to all the melodies of heaven, on which no jarring note of earth’s discord can ever strike; a divine dignity; a divine gracefulness in look and mien, in air and carriage, infinitely removed from man’s uncertain temper and the rude strife of tongues;—some such ideal, some such picture, rises before our eyes.”
But he goes on to point out something else. This is not simply a negation of things. “See,” the writer continues, “It is no mere negation; no mere abstinence from evil, or absence of evil. Nor is it any merely spontaneous development of native, innate good. It is positive, practical, perfect obedience to God’s holy law. It is the doing of his will with the whole heart. It is to live for no other end but that his will be done. So, in his life did he manifest his sinlessness who said, ‘I must be about my Father’s business.’ ‘The cup which my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it.’” John writes, “In him is no sin.”
3. A statement about the implications of Christ's work for the Christian life:
Everyone who remains in him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen him or known him. 1 John 3:6 CSB
The word “remains” here is meno which is John’s word for abiding. “Abides,” “has seen,” and “knows” are words John uses throughout this epistle to refer to a believer who is walking in intimate fellowship with God (1:7; 2:3, 10). It seems to me that John is saying that to abide in a sinless person would mean that we would not sin.
Compare these translations:
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 1 John 3:6 ESV
Everyone who remains in him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen him or known him. 1 John 3:6 CSB
The CSB is correct and the text should read, “Everyone who remains in him does not sin.” Because the Greek uses the present tense, it is asserted that this tense necessitates a translation like, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning” (ESV). This would mean that the Believer who abides in Christ may sin somewhat (how much is never specified!), but he may not sin regularly or persistently. But on all grounds, whether linguistic or exegetical, the approach is indefensible. As has been pointed out by more than one competent Greek scholar, the appeal to the present tense invites intense suspicion. No other text can be cited where the Greek present tense, unaided by qualifying words, can carry this kind of significance.
Notice what John wrote earlier:
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV
Wouldn’t walking in the same way in which he walked include sinlessness? It would have to because verse 5 says, “and in him there is no sin.” So, the believer who is abiding in Christ “does not sin.” It is not saying that the one who abides in Him does not “keep on sinning.”
I see abiding (i.e. being in an intimate relationship with Christ), as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to abide, to walk as he walked. At times we abide in Christ and we do not sin. At other times we do not abide and we sin.
Commenting on this verse one commentator writes, “‘Abides’ is John’s word for fellowship, but we need to understand that in his mind, every Christian abides in Christ. The idea that there are two types of Christians, those who abide in Him and do not sin, and those who do not abide and do sin, was foreign to the apostle’s thinking.”
If as this man says, “Every Christian abides in Christ” then why does Yeshua and John tell believers to abide?
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:3-4 ESV
Here Yeshua tells the “clean” (those who are believers) to abide in Him.
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. 1 John 2:28 ESV
“Little children”—is from the Greek word, teknia, which literally means “offspring of any age.” John is conveying a generic sense of how we are the offspring of God no matter what age we are. In other words, this term indicates those who have been regenerated by the Spirit—those who have been made partakers of the new nature through the new birth. John tells these believers to “Abide in him”—this is just what we saw Yeshua say in John 15:3-4.
What I believe John is teaching in verse 6 is that as long as a person abides in Christ, he will be free from sin. There is good pastoral advice here. The best counsel for a person who is faced by temptation to sin may not be, “Don’t do it,” because this directs the person’s mind toward the temptation itself. Rather, he should be admonished to “Abide in Christ” because this turns his attention positively toward his Savior and diverts it from the temptation. It is as our hearts are filled with love by the Spirit that they become incapable of harboring sinful desires.
Now let me just add here that while verse 6 may be taken in an absolute sense, “Everyone who remains in him does not sin,” we cannot interpret verse 9 in the same way since it says that anyone born of God cannot sin. So either John uses sin in different ways in this text or I am misinterpreting something.
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 1 John 3:7 ESV
Children, let no one deceive you. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 1 John 3:7 CSB
“Little children, let no one deceive you.” That means that moral deception is possible. He says, “I don’t want you to be deceived by the heretics that are in your midst.” It is a tender kind of appeal. He calls them little children (teknia) which means children of God, believers.
“The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous”—this is the same thing that he said in 1 John 2:29.
If you know that he is righteous, you know this as well: Everyone who does what is right has been born of him. 1 John 2:29 CSB
The children of God have a family resemblance to their Father in heaven. He is righteous, and he reproduces righteousness in every abiding Christian.
God is righteous and is, therefore, the source of all righteousness. When a man is righteous, we know that the source of his righteousness is God. It is the righteousness that he did not possess in his fallen nature but acquired by the new birth.
Paul in Corinthians says that believers are righteous and unbelievers are anomia.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV
The writer of Hebrews says that Yeshua loved righteousness and hated anomia.
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Hebrews 1:8-9 ESV
Could the “one who does what is right” refer to the one who believes? He is said to be “righteous, just as he is righteous.” The only way to be as righteous as Christ is to have Christ’s righteousness, which we receive through faith in Him.