4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
(1 John 3:4-10 NIV)
Let’s get straight to the point today: at face value, this passage is hard to understand. We’ll work through it together to understand what John is saying, and how it applies to us.
In the larger picture of John’s letter, John is in his second pair of teachings on doctrine and practice. Yesterday’s passage (starting in chapter 2 verse 28) as well as today’s passage is the practice portion of John’s teaching.
In yesterday’s preceding passage, we saw the inseparability of new life in Jesus Christ and a changed life because of Christ. Listen to John’s words:
29 If you know that he [Jesus] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
(1 John 2:29 NIV, bracketed clarification mine)
John is both clear and careful with his words. Redemption in Christ results in a changed life. John’s word order is also important. We do not change our lives to become righteous in God’s sight – quite the opposite. Because of our new life in Christ, through nothing that we earned (it is a gift), our changed life is evidence of Christ living in us.
Understanding yesterday’s passage and the larger context of John’s teaching is key to understanding today’s passage.
If we take today’s passage out of context, some might come to the conclusion that every time we sin, we would be in danger of losing our salvation or that God would disown us. But that is not the case at all.
So what is John saying? As yesterday’s passage was about the inseparability of new life in Jesus Christ and a changed life because of Christ, then today’s passage is a contrast or the opposite to that. In today’s passage, John is saying that a willful sinful life is incompatible with redemption in Christ, and therefore, evidence that a person is probably not a follower of Christ and has likely not experienced God’s redemption through Jesus Christ.
John’s teaching is harsh but true. In John’s day (as in ours), there are many who claim to be followers of Christ, but there is no evidence of Christ’s redemptive work in and through them.
The false teachers in John’s day either denied Jesus as Christ and tried to live good moral lives as a way of earning God’s favor (self-righteousness) or they claimed to be followers of Jesus but lived as if sin in their physical life had no bearing on their spiritual life.
In today’s passage, John is saying our redemption in Christ results in evidence of a changed life, and living in wanton, willful sin is evidence of no redemption in Christ.
John tells us to not be deceived by those who would teach otherwise (v. 7). John then lays out a series of moral “tests” that help us look in the mirror of our hearts and see if we are truly Christ followers (or not).
Verse 10 is the summary of those tests of our redemption. John lays out two specific tests:
- Do we live a redeemed life, as evidenced by our actions?
- Do we live a redeemed life, as evidenced by our relationships?
John’s second question using the phrase “brothers and sisters” refers to brothers and sisters in Christ (which may or may not include siblings).
There is a lot to consider in today’s passage; may we understand John’s context and meaning to help us live more Christ-like.
If you find yourself outside of Christ’s redemption and looking in, dear friend, it’s not too late. Jesus welcomes all with open arms, longing for you to come “home” to Him. All of us who are Christ followers have had to make that same choice, to swallow our pride, our fears, and our shame and acknowledge that we cannot come to Christ on our own terms. He is waiting in love, not condemnation, to invite you to be part of His family.