Each year around the time of New Years Eve, people resolve to make resolutions… promising that they will do better, try harder, accomplish set goals and generally improve themselves. Usually these same people, around this time (three months after New Years) will have already broken every single resolution, with many not even lasting through January! This same pattern of promising resolutions and failing shortly after also goes on with believers – not just at New Years, but all-year-round. It’s a vicious cycle of condemnation leading to destruction that often stems from a chapter in the Bible that was actually intended to free us from such condemnation!
Our study today is going to be on this very misunderstood chapter, looking at the common misconceptions surrounding it, and also of course we will be examining what it actually means for us in Christ Jesus today.
So let’s begin by reading 1st John 3:1-12:
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.
Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
Whoever stays in him sins not: whoever sins has not seen him, neither known him.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
Now verses 6 through 9 are what is commonly quoted by many, usually used as a sledgehammer to beat on the conscience of those who are caught in sin. However to truly understand what these verses are saying we must take in these verses as a whole and not read them out of context.
In verse 1, we see the word “Behold”, which means Look and see! It is not only a statement, but a directive to open your eyes and receive, in this particular instance, to receive the great love which our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us – so much love in-fact that we are called the sons of God. This is the setting of the entire chapter and this is the foundation of it all. It all begins by “Beholding the love of God for us”.
Next in verse 2 is a clarification of time. The verse says now we are the sons of God. Even though we do not yet see the full measure of what that means. We already are, we are not waiting until heaven to become sons, we are sons now. So many times I have heard “Well, I’m just a sinner waiting to become a son.” If that’s the case then you need to stop waiting and start receiving Jesus.
The second-half of verse 2 contains not only a truth for future glory, but also of present manifestation as well… The more we behold Him, then the more we will be like Him. The more that we see Him as He is, the more we will also be transformed to be like Him. This truth is repeated many times in different ways throughout the scriptures. (2nd Corinthians 3:18, Hebrews 2:8-10, Genesis 41:16, Zechariah 4:6-7, Joshua 1:8). It is also expanded on in verse 3, next.
Verse 3 states that every man that has this hope in Him (Jesus) purifies himself, even as He is pure. If you only take a casual glance at this verse, you will miss a very important principle here. First of all, this verse is not talking about cleaning yourself up! If the criteria for having hope in Christ was “to make ourselves pure even as Jesus is pure” then we would all be hopeless and doomed. Let’s take a finer look at what the verse is saying… Every one that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure. To understand this we need to break down the parts of this verse.
First it mentions everyone that “has this hope in Him”: This is the confident expectation of the Father’s love for us and also our status as sons of God which was mentioned in the previous two verses. And this hope is not rooted in ourselves or our own performance or any other thing, but our hope is rooted in Him!
We can see from this verse that the way that we are purified, even to the same degree that Jesus is pure, is to simply trust in Him! Having a confident expectation of future glory as well as trust in the Father’s love for us and a realization of our standing and status in Christ will absolutely change us and have a purifying effect on every single area of our lives.
Once we truly know that God will provide for us, there will be no need to steal. Once we truly know that God will protect us, there will be no need to lie or to fear or to worry. Once we truly know that God is our redeemer and our vindicator, there will be no need to seek revenge or to curse others. It all comes from the confidence that we have in Christ Jesus.
Moving on to verse 4, we have a definition of sin, so that here can be no dispute or doubt about what sin is as a verb. Connect this with the following verse 5 and we see that the very reason why Jesus was manifested on the earth was to take away our sin, not His own for in Him is no sin.
Now verses 6 through 9 as stated at the start of our study, is the main portion where people begin to be in confusion, and indeed the English text is confusing; I will not dispute that. On the surface, the English translation does seem to make a case that anyone who sins is not born of God and doesn’t know Him and is therefore doomed. However this superficial reading of these verses would seem to be contrary to what we have just read in the previous verses! And as we learned earlier, it is always error to take a verse out of context and not factor in the rest of the verses. So let’s take a closer look at these verses.
In verse 6 we can see that whoever stays in Him, sins not; whoever sins has not seen Him, neither known Him. That word “stays” is the word abide or to live in as a house. To be completely surrounded and enveloped by Jesus Christ. And as we learned earlier, when you are truly living in the truth and confident hope of Jesus in Grace, sin will lose its power. This is eloquently stated in the second-half of the verse: If you sin, you have yet to see Jesus or to know Him in that particular area of your life, because if you saw Him or knew Him in that area, your very reason for sinning would be eliminated; its chains on you will be broken when Jesus is encountered.
Next we have verse 7, another verse that is often used by people to support righteousness through works and Law-keeping, even though this was never its intent. In plain English what this verse is actually saying is this, those who are righteous through faith in Christ will have the outward works of righteousness manifesting in their lives. One who is righteous by faith and has that assurance of Christ in is life, will effortlessly live as such. It will be natural and not a struggle. Notice that the end of this verse refers back to Christ Jesus, again. Once we realize that we are righteous even as He is righteous. Our foundation will be solid.
Verse 8 tells of the alternative position… if you are not righteous by faith in Christ, then you are not righteous, period. This is why Jesus came, because we can never work our way into Heaven. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we are cleansed and made righteous.
Then comes verse 9, one of the mos misunderstood verses of our text today. This is yet another verse often used to promote self-righteousness through works; but it is not so.
The verse reads: Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
This verse has nothing to do with the perseverance of man. In-fact looking over the verse I see only One who is persevering here and that is God. His seed remains. The key to understanding this verse is in the original Greek text, where the phrase “and he cannot sin” is written as: οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, which is translated as “and he cannot be a sinner”. It is quite simply impossible to be a sinner once the regenerating power of Christ is indwelling you. Once you are born again, born from above, born of God, your position has now changed. You are no longer in the place of sin, but the place of righteousness. (Romans 5:12-21)
My dear friends, when we truly begin to accept the truth of Christ, and cultivate a Biblical confident hope in Him, we will begin to manifest His character and His nature in every area of life. If however, we fall into the trap of focusing on trying harder, doing better and being more “holy” – even though such behaviors are good and desirable – we will never attain what we seek because we are seeing in vain. We are focusing on the fruit, rather than the One which gives the fruit.
So I encourage you today, receive your new nature in Christ, start believing that what He has said is true. Start beholding your status and position in Him, and it will purify every area of your life – inside and out.