April 2012


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 3:2-6

Week 27:  Apr 22, 2012

John continues building on the ideal that we are children of God, contrasting sin with abiding in him.


h.      We are God’s Children Live accordingly (3:2-3:6)

i.      Premise:   We will be like him (3:2)

2 – Dear friends, we are now God’s children, but what we will be like has not been revealed yet. We know that when the Messiah[1] is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is.

–          John again emphasizes that we are God’s children now, itis not just some future hope.  But while we are God’s children now, God is not done with us and there is a future component to this, even if we do not know what it will be.  This is very similar to Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 2:9 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” Yet while we do not know what we will be like, we do know we will be like Jesus.

because we will see him as he is.

–          The Greek here is somewhat ambiguous. It could be that we Know… because we see or it could be, we will be like because we see. I think that the latter fits the context best.  Much of John’s message has been to see God has he truly is, is to obey him, to be like him.   This is similar to faith, the more faith we have the more we follow him.

ii.      Live accordingly (3:3-6)

3 – And everyone who has this hope based on him keeps himself pure, just as the Messiah[2] is pure.

–          If we have this hope, we will strive to follow him now. How could it be otherwise?  Think about something in your life you really hoped for, and how much you did to make that hope a reality.   If we really have this hope in Christ, we will keep ourselves pure.  This also implies that those who do not have this hope don’t follow him, and after all why should they?

–          pure (ἁγνός)

–          The Greek work here means without defect or blemish.  It originally meant to withdraw from world to dedicate oneself to God, but overtime came to be seen in ethical terms, which is what it meant at the time John wrote.  As in all things, Jesus is to be our example.  We should strive to be like him.

4 – Everyone who keeps living in sin also practices disobedience. In fact, sin is disobedience.

–          While a reference to those who left, this is stated as a universal principle.  How can you be a follower of Christ and disobey Christ at the same time?

–  Disobedience  (ἀνομία)

–          The word means to disregard the law, Lawless.  For some this is simply breaking the rules set down by God.  Others see this as working in opposition to God.  The difference will depend on how one views God’s Law. This is a very complex question and one that has long been debated.   In fact it is at the heart of  Plato’s  Euthyphro and which asks the related question: What is Holiness?   Is something holy simply because God says it is? Or does God say it is holy because that is what it is?  Or, more to the point here, why did God establish any particular law such as the prohibition on murder?

In a very brief fashion,  is murder wrong just because God said it is wrong?  If so could He have said it was right?  On the other hand if you say murder is wrong independent of God, then it does not come from God, and God is not supreme.

While in Euthypro this seems to be an insoluble problem, there is a third option,  that what is holy, what is good, and thus the basis for God’s law is tied to the very nature and character of God.  Murder is wrong not just because said it is wrong, but because of who God is, because of his very nature.

If this view is correct, it has some pretty significant ramifications, for to sin is to go against the very nature and character of God.  It is to be in conflict with the very nature and essence behind the universe, and this begins to give us some understanding of the impact of sin on nature.

In this light it become easier to see why to know him, is to follow and obey him for to sin is to rebel against the very nature and character of God.

5         – You know that the Messiah[3] was revealed to take away sins,[4] and there is not any sin in him.

–          John follows this stark statement of sin with statement of comfort which is stated as a statement of common ground – a premise.   Jesus came to take away sins. Again John use take away rather than atone. The emphasis here is more on the removal than the process and follows this with there is not any sin in him which again is an emphasis on the absence of sin. This verse harkens back to the starting premise of this letter in 1:5 God is light, and in him there is no darkness—none at all!

6 – No one who remains in union with him keeps on sinning. The one who keeps on sinning hasn’t seen him or known him.

–          John finished this section with a forceful statement against sinning.  To drive his point home, he says it in both a positive and negative fashion.  To be in union with Christ is to stop sinning, and to continue sinning is to neither see him or know him.   This is a theme that John has mentioned before and will do so again, for a key aspect of a relationship with Christ is obedience.   (See verse 2:3-6)

–          Out of context this statement can be very troubling to Christians. But John has also said in 1:8 that If we say that we do not have any sin, we are deceiving ourselves and we’re not being truthful to ourselves. Given this, how are we to understand this passage?   As one might expect, there are many theories.

Some believe that John is referring to a certain type of sin, normally willful or deliberate sin.  This view however has two significant problems. As we all know from experience, not all of our sins are involuntary.  Even the best Christians not only sin but sin deliberately at times so this explanation does not really solve the problem.   The second problem is that the discussion of sin in this section does not lend itself in to such a neat division. John does later make a division among sins, but that is toward the end of the letter (1 John 5:16), and thus cannot be considered part of the context here.

Another view is that John is speaking of continual sin and thus the translation keeps on sinning.  One problem here is that this could be seen as pushing the grammar farther than it supports. While the present active tense used here can refer to continuous action, it does not in and of itself do so.  This must be determined from the context.  But the context does not really demand this.  So the claim that this refers to continual sinning, is more a theological argument than a grammatical one.  This does not rule it out, but the neither is it very clear from the context of John’s discussion.

A third view is that John is speaking of an ideal.   John frequently speaks in stark black and white terms, and is doing so here.  This is our goal, this is our ideal.  Our goal is not to be mostly free from sin, but to be completely free from sin.  This is more than just a goal, it is also our future. When Christ comes, we will be in union with him and will be free from sin.  Important to the support of this view is the fact that John started this section by pointing to what we will be like when the Messiah is revealed. (3:2)

I think there may be something else going on here as well.  Building off of John’s statement about knowing God equals obedience to God, and that to love God means to obey him, I see the focus of the verse not on so much on sinning, but on remaining in him (πᾶς ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων).  If we remain in him we will not sin.  For us to sin requires that we break our fellowship with him, that we cease to know him or see him.  When we sin, at that point for us, God does not exist.

If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

See here for references and more background on the class.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


[1]  3:2 Lit. he

[2]  3:3 Lit. as he

[3]  3:5 Lit. that he

[4]  3:5 Other mss. read our sins

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