We are working our way through 1 John, and last week we looked at the last half of verse 8 in chapter 3. I want to look a little more at the end of verse 8 before we move on because it is really loaded with theology.
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. 1 John 3:8 ESV
What are the “devil works” that Yeshua appeared to destroy? It is my understanding that the “works of the devil” was to separate man from Yahweh. We see this in Genesis:
And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. Genesis 2:8 ESV
God created Adam and then placed him in the Garden of Eden, which was His dwelling place. He brought him into His Home and into His presence. Then in Genesis 3 we have the serpent telling Eve not to believe Yahweh. This serpent is not a snake but is a divine being. It is not an animal, but a throne room guardian—a seraph, one who was part of the divine council. He decides to deceive humanity to get rid of them; he wants humans removed from Eden and thus from Yahweh's council and family.
The devil gets Adam to disobey God. Man sins, falls, and is removed from Yahweh's Temple. He is put out of the Garden and separated from Yahweh. But then we have a promise from Yahweh:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 ESV
Yahweh tells them that Eve's seed, a human being, will come and fix what Adam has done. A deliverer will come. It is my understanding that the gods understood this promise of a coming redeemer who would be human, so the gods’ next strategic move was an attempt to destroy the human race by genetically corrupting the human line so that it was no longer truly human. We see this in Genesis 6:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. Genesis 6:1-4 ESV
The "Sons of God" of verses 2 and 4 are rebellious divine beings from God's heavenly host, also called "Watchers." Remember that we have seen that there are many satans. We looked last week at The Book of Enoch, chapter 69:4-12, which lists five satans. It says, “And the third was named Gadreel: he it is who showed the children of men all the blows of death, and he led astray Eve…” So here Enoch calls satan Gadrell.
These “sons of God,” these watchers, these satans or devils have taken the form of masculine human-like creatures. These gods married women of the human race, thus violating the heavenly/earthly division that Yahweh established. The hybrid offspring of this abominable union was the giants called Nephilim. Nephilim were giants with physical superiority who established themselves as men of renown because of their physical power and military might.
Let me read you something from Michael Heiser about this text that is extremely important:
"Ninety nine percent of Second Temple Judaism believed that the reason wickedness so permeates the earth is not just an extension and is in large part not even linked to what happened with Adam and Eve, but the reason that people are always and universally thoroughly wicked is because of what the Watchers did. Everybody in Paul's circle, everybody in Second Temple Judaism with the exception of four intertestamental references in intertestamental literature, everything says that the reason for the proliferation of evil is the sin of the Watchers, everything?" [Michael S. Heiser, The Naked Bible Podcast 2.0, Episode 94]
This is huge because it tells us that Second Temple Judaism held a supernatural view of the Bible. They saw Genesis 6 as the gods coming down and having sex with human women and producing a hybrid offspring. This is what everybody believed!
Enochian texts of the Intertestamental period and the New Testament tell us that
these Watchers did two things in order to disrupt God's plan:
raised up a seed to corrupt and oppose God's people and;
2. They helped humanity destroy itself. Enoch says:
And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. 1 Enoch 7:1-2
These watchers corrupted mankind and taught them all kinds of evil. They taught mankind to use certain technologies, and they seduced them with aberrant sexual relationships. They helped humanity down the path of self—destruction.
Enoch says the flood was sent because of the Watchers. The voluntary sexual transgressions of the women with the Watchers was a violation of heaven and earth and caused the humans to share the blame. The wickedness of men was their sexual union with the Watchers.
I think that the Watchers were jealous of Yahweh for bringing man into sacred space, the garden. Because of this envy, the serpent got them kicked out of the garden. Then Yahweh told of His plan to redeem man by the seed of the woman, so the Watchers sought to pollute the human race to stop the plan of redemption.
God constituted Adam as the federal head or representative of the entire race. Adam acted on our behalf as our representative. Thanks to some help from satan, Adam failed. He sinned, and his sin has been put to the account of every person ever born. This is referred to as imputation. Paul teaches this in Romans 5:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— Romans 5:12 ESV
The devil gets Adam to disobey God and through Adam’s sin, sin entered into the world. And as a result of Adam’s sin, spiritual death/separation from God came upon all men. In verses 12-21 of Romans 5, Paul develops the parallel between Adam and Christ. Adam is the head of the whole human race; Christ is the head of the New Covenant people. That there is an analogy is shown by the statement at the end of verse 14:
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. Romans 5:14 ESV
Adam was a type of "Him who was to come"—the Lord Yeshua.
And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. Romans 5:16 ESV
We see here that Adam's sin resulted in judgment, (krima)—a sentence or a decision on the part of a judge. This sentence from the judge resulted in condemnation, (katakrima). Katakrima is defined by Suttor in his Lexicon as the punishment following the sentence. It is in a passive form in the Greek and it is not likely to refer to the sentence as an edict from the judge but rather to the punishment which is spiritual death. Adam's sin is imputed to all. This is condemnation; it is spiritual death or separation from God.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:18 ESV
Again, in this verse we see the same idea. Adam's transgression resulted in condemnation, (katakrima) or spiritual death to all men. When Adam sinned, he sinned as our federal head or representative. Adam's sin is imputed to the account of every individual in Adam's race. Everyone is born spiritually dead and, therefore, separated from God because of Adam's sin which was brought about by a work of the devil. His act was a representative act, and you and I, being represented by our federal head, participated in Adam's sin. We are all, therefore, separated from Yahweh.
For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 ESV
As Adam committed one act, so Yeshua committed one act. It was an act of obedience that led Him to the cross where He died for our sin. His one act of obedience was an act of sacrifice, the giving of himself for sinners. What was the result of that one act of obedience? It appeased the wrath of God; it satisfied His justice. Sin was paid for. So, God put to the account of His elect the righteousness of Christ.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Yeshua. Romans 8:1 ESV
“Now no condemnation”—reading this in the original text, we see that the emphasis rests upon the word "no." "There is now therefore no condemnation.” That's the emphatic word in the Greek text.
The Greek word that Paul uses here for "condemnation" is the same word he used in chapter 5—katakrima. There is now no spiritual death for those who trust Christ. Yeshua destroyed the works of the devil. The separation of man and God has been repaired by Christ for all who trust in Him. There will never be, in the life of any believer, spiritual death. There will be chastening and discipline in this life, but there will never be any separation from God.
The destruction of the devil's works of separating man from God is so complete that we read a very bold statement in verse 9:
Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:9 CSB
This is a good translation of this verse. This verse has generated a lot of confusion and controversy. I am sure that my experience is like yours. I feel quite capable of sinning and years of walking with the Lord have not lessened my ability! It has lessened my frequency, but not my ability. So, what does John mean?
Here is how I understand this verse. No one who is born of God will commit the sin unto death, which I see as unbelief. And the fact that God's seed remains points to the permanence of that work. The seed that God plants cannot be uprooted. I take this as referring to the specific sin of unbelief, the sin unto death.
I have been saying that 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. 8a)
I see this sin of lawlessness and sin of the devil as the specific sin of unbelief.
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). I see verse 5 here as referring to sin in general and verse 8 as speaking about the sin of unbelief which separates man from God.
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). I see verse 6 referring to sin in general and verse 9 referring to the sin of unbelief.
If you do not see the sin of verse 9 as a specific sin, you have problems. This verse does not fit with the primary rule of hermeneutics—the analogy of faith. The Analogy of Faith is the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Does Scripture anywhere teach that believers sin? Yes. It continually calls believers to stop sinning. What John wrote earlier seems to contradict what he writes here.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 ESV
1 John 3:9 says that believers do not sin and even cannot sin, but here it says that we are self—deceived if we say we do not have sin. Consider 1 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, Yeshua the Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1 ESV
Here Christians are told not to sin; but if they do sin, they have an advocate with the Father. So, which is it? Do Christians sin or are they unable to sin? Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, so there must be a way to reconcile these verses. But the means of reconciliation is far from agreed upon. Several weeks ago I gave you eight different views of this text: (1) The Habitual Sin View, (2) The Sinless Perfection View, (3) The Not Real View, (4) The Absolute View, (5) The Projected Eschatological Reality View, (6) The New Nature/Old Nature View, (7) The Contradiction View, (8) The Specific Sin View.
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 and 9 are saying that those born of God cannot sin habitually. Because the Greek uses the present tense, it is asserted that this tense necessitates a translation like, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (ESV). This would mean that those born of God 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.
Let’s apply this “perfect tense” to a couple of other verses in this book:
If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 CSB
If anyone sees a fellow believer committing a sin that doesn’t lead to death, he should ask, and God will give life to him—to those who commit sin that doesn’t lead to death. There is sin that leads to death. I am not saying he should pray about that. 1 John 5:16 CSB
Dr. Thomas L. Constable writes, If we were to translate 1:8 and 5:16, where the present tense also occurs, "we do not continually have sin" and "continually sinning a sin" respectively, these verses would contradict 3:9. It would involve no self-deception to say that we do not continually have sin (1:8), since whoever is born of God does not continually sin (3:9). Furthermore, if one born of God does not continually sin (3:9), how could a Christian see his brother Christian continually sinning (5:16)? Suppose we translated the present tense in John 14:6 the same way: "No one continually comes to the Father except through Me." This would imply that occasionally someone might come to God in another way. No orthodox translator would offer that as an acceptable rendering of John 14:6, and it is not acceptable in 1 John 3:9 either. [Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 John 2019 Edition]
So, we cannot add words like, “makes a practice of sinning” (ESV) or “practices sin” (NASB) or “keeps on sinning” (CJB). The KJV and the CSB got it right.
Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:9 CSB
“Everyone who has been born of God does not sin…he is not able to sin—commenting on this verse the JFB commentary says, “In so far as one sins, he makes it doubtful whether he be born of God.” Really! We all know that those born of God do sin, because we have been born of God, but we still sin.
One writer says, “However, in this verse, John was looking only at the sinless nature of the indwelling Christ that we possess. As a total person, we do sin and can never claim to be free of it, but our 'inward self' that is regenerated does not sin…” That to me sounds just like the Gnostics claim.
Others have taught that Christians are able to attain a state of sinless perfection, and that is what the author refers to here. But John says all Christians (everyone who has been born of God) does not sin.
To me the only view that makes sense is the Specific Sin View. John is speaking of a specific sin. What is that sin?
Everyone who commits sin practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 CSB
The word “lawlessness” here is anomia. Colin G. Kruse says that anomia may be the key to interpreting this passage.
A number of exegetes consider anomia to mean more than lawlessness. They contend that the word may have the meaning of rejection and opposition to God's will and rule. The sin which distinguishes the children of the devil is sin which has its roots in anomia (i.e. rebellion against God). It is this sin that believers cannot commit because God’s “seed” remains in them. The children of God do sometimes commit sins (2:1), but the one thing they do not do is commit anomia or the sin of rebellion, the sin of the devil.
We could say that the sin that John is talking about in 1 John 3:9 is the sin of rejecting Christ. Notice how John closes this epistle:
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17 ESV
I think we can identify the "sin unto death" with something that fits the grammatical and historical context of the epistle. Many writers have supported the idea that the "sin unto death" is the sin of unbelief or rejection of Christ—which is a major theme in the Johannine writings. If we connect 3:9 and 5:18, we see that the impeccability of the Christian is seen in terms of the rejection of Christ. The "sin unto death" is the sin of unbelievers not of believers. This explains the statements that the one who is born of God "does not sin" and "cannot sin."
The people whom John was warning his readers about held beliefs that involved a denial that Yeshua was the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3) and that his death was necessary for the forgiveness of sins (1 John 5:6-7). This is unbelief.
John uses anomia only once in the epistle. He uses it to define the sin of the world (the children of the devil). What is the sin of the children of God? John does say that God's children do sin:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 CSB
Here the context clearly has reference to the sins of the children of God, and the key word is "unrighteousness." In 5:17, where again the context clearly has reference to the sins of the children of God, we find this:
All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that doesn’t lead to death. 1 John 5:17 CSB
The word “unrighteousness” here and in 1:9 is adikia. In 3:4, we see that lawlessness (anomia) is sin, and in 5:17, we see that unrighteousness (adikia) is sin. The first applies to the children of the devil; the second applies to the children of God. The first issues from alienation and estrangement from God in Christ; the second issues from a fallible and imperfect commitment in faith to God in Christ.
John says that “everyone who has been born of God does not sin…he is not able to sin,” “Because his seed remains in him”—the word for “seed” here is sperma. It is possible to take “God’s seed” to mean “God’s offspring”; such a person cannot sin because he abides in God. But this interpretation is not too popular, and most commentators take “seed” to refer metaphorically to a divine principle of life which abides in the believer.
There have been several theories as to exactly what the Greek phrase, "His seed," means. Augustine and Luther said it refers to God's Word. Calvin said it refers to the Holy Spirit. Others said it refers to the Divine Nature or new self. Some say it refers to Christ Himself as the "seed of Abraham." Some see it as synonymous with the phrase "born of God." Some say it was a term used by the Gnostics to speak of the divine spark in all humans.
I think that the most likely possibility is the Holy Spirit. This view finds strong support in John 3:5:
Yeshua answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 3:5 ESV
Here the concept of divine begetting is associated with the work of the Holy Spirit when Yeshua told Nicodemus, “unless a person is born (literally “begotten, fathered”) of water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
The construction of the phrase in the Greek text indicates that the preposition "of" governs both "water" and "Spirit." This means that Yeshua was clarifying regeneration by using two terms that both describe the new birth. He was not saying that two separate things have to be present for regeneration to happen.
It seems best to understand the metaphor of God’s “seed” residing in the believer in 3:9 as a reference to the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“Because he has been born of God”—the change from being of the devil in verse 8 to being children of God comes as we are born of God. An understanding of the process of being born of God is best found in the Fourth Gospel.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 ESV
The antecedent of "who" is those who believe in Yeshua's name (v. 12). John defines this supernatural birth into divine sonship in the negative by listing three ways we were not born into God's Covenant Family.
"Not of blood"—literally, the text reads, "Who were born, not of bloods …" "Bloods" probably indicates the two parents necessary for a human birth, and this verse emphasizes that the birth of the children of God is not a normal physical process.
"Nor of the will of the flesh"—this refers to human sexual impulse, not born by human sexual impulse. The flesh cannot produce children of God. Crossing the boundary from the world's realm to God's realm is possible only by divine agency.
"Nor of the will of man"—the word that John uses here for man is andros, which speaks of a male and not the generic term for mankind. This word is often translated as "husband." The NIV interpreted it properly as "husband" here. This probably refers to the father's authority in deciding to have a child. Spiritual life does not come because of a human decision.
This verse actually ends with "Born of God"—which is "ek theos gennao." This is what we have in our text in 1 John 3:9. The Greek verb gennao is an aorist passive indicative and is placed last in the Greek sentence for emphasis. This emphasizes the initiating and sovereign role of God in the new birth.
Later in John’s Gospel, in chapter 6, he makes it very clear that the new birth is a sovereign act of God.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 ESV
There are three things I want to point out here. The first is the phrase "no one." This is a "universal negative." That is to say that the phrase "no one" includes both classes of people, Jews and Gentiles. Second, the words "can come to Me” has to do with the ability of man. Yeshua was saying, "No one, neither Jew nor Gentile, has the ability to come to Me." Lastly, there is the word "unless." This word is a "necessary condition." Yeshua said that the necessary condition for someone coming to Him was God’s giving it to them. What does God give them? Ability. Simply put, God gives man the ability to come to Christ. Man, on his own, does not have that ability.
The Greek word translated "draws" is helkuo, which means: “to drag by irresistible superiority.” This is what Calvinists call "Irresistible Grace or Sovereign Grace." It is not that God drags those who do not want to come. It is that God makes them willing to come by His grace. In regeneration, God gives us spiritual life which includes a desire for Him. If God gives us a desire for Christ, we will act according to that desire and we will choose Christ.
Here's how I understand verse 9:
Everyone who has been born of God does not [reject Christ] sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to [reject Christ] sin, because he has been born of God. 1 John 3:9 CSB Note: words in brackets added (DBC).
Believers, we sin, and quite often on a regular basis, but our sin is not unto death. This verse is telling us that we cannot commit the sin that unbelievers do—the sin that leads to death (i.e. rejecting Christ). We cannot commit that sin because we are eternally secure in Christ.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37 ESV
This is speaking of eternal security—our salvation is secure. Just as I did nothing to get my salvation (I was given and drawn by the Father), I can do nothing to keep it, or lose it. I am eternally secure in His electing love. If any part of my eternal salvation depends upon my power and ability and commitment and righteousness, I am damned! If I could lose my salvation, I would. And so would you. So, I rejoice in the fact that I cannot lose it. The one who is given to Christ and is drawn comes, and the one who comes is eternally secure.
Let me just add here that I think that verse 6 may be taken in an absolute sense:
Everyone who remains in him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen him or known him. 1 John 3:6 CSB
“Everyone who remains in him does not sin”—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.
But 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 misunderstanding something. I understanding him to be using “sin” in verse 6 to refer to sin in general, missing the mark. But in verse 9, he uses it for unbelief.
Now as we come to verse 10, we need to understand that this verse serves as a transition from the preceding material (3:4-9) to what follows (3:11-24). The concept of loving one’s fellow Christian is introduced at the end of verse 10 and is expanded in verses 11-18.
This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister. 1 John 3:10 CSB
I need you to remember here that the verse divisions are not inspired. They were added later. The verse divisions are helpful, but here I think they are hurtful.
“This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious”—it is my opinion that the section we have been looking at (1 John 3:4-9) concludes with the first half of verse 10. I think it is preferable to take the last half of the verse as beginning a new section.
What the first half of verse 10 is saying is that we can tell the children of God from the children of the devil by their faith. The children of the devil sin in that they do not believe in the Christ of the Bible. The children of God are made evident by their faith in Christ. This ends this section.
“Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister”—with this last half of verse 10 John begins a new discussion of love. We will look at it next time. Let me just say here that the phrase “is not of God” does not mean, “not born of God.” John is using “not of God” here to refer to fellowship. The one who does not do what is right is not abiding in Christ, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister.
With our next study of 1 John, we will be dealing with the very practical and possibly very painful subject of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.