Continuing with our study in 1 John, chapter 3, verses 1-9 can be seen in two parts: The Father’s love for us (vv. 1-3), and the Father’s image in us (vv. 4-9). Having mentioned being “born of Him” (2:29), John’s thought is triggered by some astonishing implications of our new life in Christ and begins with an outburst of amazement!
The Father’s Love for Us (vss. 1-3)
John’s enthusiastic appeal to his readers is lost in most translations. It could read “Behold! How abundant and lavish is God’s love for us!” (cf., John the Baptist’s amazement in Jn. 1:29). The force of the entire verse is upon God as our loving Father. Moreover, we are God’s children, not in name only, but in reality!
The world (= humanity in opposition to God) does not recognize us as God’s children because our character is given by our Parent. “Like Father, like son.” Therefore, if the Parent is rejected, so too will His children be (cf., Jn. 15:18-19). This comment strengthens our assurance as God’s children. After all, we’re not merely orphaned simply because we do not belong to the world; we belong to God. The hatred of the world is inadvertently a sign of God’s love for us.
To Consider: Although our status as God’s children is a privileged one, it should never be an occasion for pride. Rather, be a child of God should result in the humble, gracious character of our Lord formed in us (cf., Lk. 6:36; Phil. 2:5-8; 2 Pt. 1:4; Tit. 2:11-12).
John reiterates to stress our present status and to set up a glimpse of our future reality.
The exact nature of our glorified state is not clearly defined. Other passages about our future heavenly existence are equally opaque (see, 1 Cor. 2:9; 13:12-13; 15:38).
Note: Our future hope is not deification, but glorification. John did not mean we would be completely identical to Jesus. Being “like” someone isn’t the same as “being” someone. We will share in Christ’s glory.
To Consider: The sequence of events are clear from v. 2: Christ appears, we see Him as He really is, we shall be like Him. Just as a mirror reflects our image, the effect of seeing Jesus in all His glory will be our final transformation into His likeness (see also, Rom. 8:17-18, 29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4).
To underscore the importance of personal purity, John suddenly shifts from first person plural to third person singular. Such a vision of Christ cannot be detached from practical implications. John insists that our future hope must impact our present walk!
Like John, other biblical figures understood the importance of maintaining a forward focus (Heb. 12:1-3; Rom. 5:3-5; Phil. 3:12-14). If our daily lives were governed more by the anxious expectation of Jesus’ appearance, there would be far less depression and therapy and far more hope-filled believers who delight in their identity as God’s children.
Meanwhile, John reminds us of the presence and power of sin in our lives and returns to the purpose of Christ’s first coming: To remove sin and destroy Satan’s work.
The Father’s Image in Us (vss. 4-9)
In this passage John is speaking about the “rule,” not the “exception.” He is targeting a pattern set in life, a habitual lifestyle dominated by sin, not occasional sinful behavior.
John’s readers were being tempted by some who maintained sin is just a matter of the body; it does not affect their status before God. John urges that sin not only affects believers’ relationship with God, but a lifestyle characterized by sin cannot be true of a genuine believer. Lawlessness is not merely the result from sin but the very essence of it.
This is not a casual glance at the cross. It is a firm resolve that relies upon the sufficiency and finality of Christ’s person and work. How? By His sinless sacrifice (see, Jn. 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4;15; 7:26, 1 Pt. 1:19; 2:21-22; 3:18). Christ’s perfect, righteous life as a human is God’s consummate opposition to sin.
The first half of this verse is the logical consequence of what was previously stated, namely, since Jesus is eternally sinless, and since He appeared to take away sins, then we who go on living in Him will not go on sinning.
The second half of v. 6 is the obvious counterfactual truth. This is not to say there is no sin in a believer’s life (1:8; 2:1). John’s intent is that one who’s life is repeatedly dominated by sin indicates that person is not a believer, just as one who continually abides in Christ is a believer. Sin for the believer is an occasional diversion. Sin for the unbeliever is the predominating influence.
John commands us not to be deceived, which presupposes that we are responsible for knowing and adhering to our faith. The deceit is not only doctrinal, but ethical. A truly born-again person is one who not only believes rightly, but behaves righteously (Mt. 7:16). Biblically, acting rightly presupposes right character. We do not become righteous by practicing righteousness. We practice righteousness because we already are righteous (see 2 Cor. 5:21).
The ultimate origin of sin and evil is the Devil. Note: The Devil has been sinning from the beginning, indicating that it’s his very nature to sin. Likewise, it’s the nature of the unregenerate to practice what they are. Sinners practice sin; saints practice righteousness. Continually resisting God shows family resemblance to Satan (Jn. 8:44).
Christ is our Conqueror over sin and Satan! The New Testament is clear that Christ is victorious over evil (Jn. 12:31; Lk. 10:18; Rom. 6:10; Rev. 12:9-11).
Therefore, sin, as an enslaving principle, cannot be present in God’s newborn children (Rom. 6:1-18). Because “God’s seed” remains in true believers, the Father’s image is the predominate influence in those who are born of God.
Two important truths arise that must be reflected upon:
- Believers will not habitually sin because we have a new nature and those who share in God’s nature share His opposition to sin. (Note: “Seed” is often used as a euphemism to describe the father’s nature imparted to the child.)
- Since it is ontologically impossible to revert back to our old sinful nature (see especially Rom. 11:29; Phil. 1:6; 2 Pt. 2:21-22), believers cannot habitually sin. Therefore, those who openly live a life opposed to God are likely not genuine believers. Alternatively, those who gradually and certainly live righteously and lovingly are truly born from above.
Our Father’s love for us and His image in us should strengthen our resolve to withstand the world’s hatred and live righteous lives that bear the imprint of His perfect, victorious Son.