NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LVIII) 02/24/21
We all know how destructive little white lies can be. Consequently, we should all sincerely consider how self-deception will make our perspectives almost irrelevant. Most often, our self-deception arises from the fact that we are covering up some irrational fear that we’ve afraid to face. John says that if we keep saying I’ve done nothing wrong; we will fall into our own trap. Such actions will prevent a person from taking the time and effort needed to build a solid foundation to construct a secure and reliable life. As a Christian, that foundation is the Anointed One and His teachings. Spiritually speaking, we will never be able to reach our highest potential or take advantage of our opportunities for spiritual growth unless we surrender to God’s will instead of our own. Failure to listen to God will bring more problems on top of those we are already dealing with.
As such, it becomes a cycle of repetitious behavior. Out of all of this comes a pearl of wisdom. If you do not know what is right, how can you know what is wrong? People, circumstances, news, and claims are often determined to be untrue by those who do not know what is true. How can God’s children decide what are false spirits if they do not know the true Spirit? That’s why God predetermined to send His Spirit to dwell in the believer’s heart. If the true Spirit is not in you, you only guess when you point to other spirits as false.
Didymus the Blind (313-398), despite his handicap, exposes the ridiculousness of those who say they are walking in the Light of knowing God while still enveloped in the dark ignorance of sin. Since God is Light and, therefore, darkness cannot be found in Him, He has no fellowship with those in the dark. That’s why for those who live in God’s Light, darkness has no hold over them. Therefore, those who are still in sin’s darkness who claim that they live in God’s Light are lying to themselves and others.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) knew from personal experience that although we are children of God, we are in a war with death as long as we are bound to this mortal life. And what John says here in verse eight is honestly said of us, “Those that the Spirit of God leads are truly the children of God.” Yet, even as the Spirit of God guides us, and as children of God, we advance toward God, we are also struggling with our human spirit. That’s because we are weighed down by our corruptible bodies and influenced by certain human feelings. That’s why some fall away with their lawbreaking tendencies to sin. But it matters to what degree. Although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime. That’s why we can say of the lives of holy men, even while they live in this mortality, that they are not guilty of any crime. “But if we say that we have no sin,” as John says here, “we deceive even ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That means being holy in our eyes or other people’s eyes is not holiness in God’s eyes.
In another place, Augustine makes an interesting point that even while God’s heavily burdened children groan under persecution, they do not wish that He remove their struggles but that they receive the gift that swallows up death in eternal life. In other words, while God’s people know that hardships and sufferings are part of living for the Lord, they don’t beg for Him to take everything away. Nor are they anxious for Him to accelerate their dying to get out of their misery, but extending their life so they can show others mercy. Yes, they do have the first-fruit of the reborn spirit groaning within them as they wait for the redemption of their body. But they know that they are in a battle with lawbreaking tendencies that never seem to let up. And here, the Apostle John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Augustine then raises a critical point when it comes to the Virgin Mary. He writes that he does not wish to raise any questions regarding the holy Virgin Mary on the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord. If we could assemble all the holy men and women that Christian historian Pelagius lists who lived their lives without sin, except for the Virgin Mary, and asked them whether they lived without sin while they were in this life, what could we expect would be their answer? Would it be according to Pelagius or in the Apostle John’s words? Let’s put it this way, on having such a question submitted to them, no matter how excellent might have been their sanctity in this body, they would exclaim with one voice: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?”
But let us imagine that their answers were more humble than honest! What we call sin may well not have been their idea of sin. Well, Pelagius has already determined, and rightly decided, “not to place the praise of humility on the side of falsehood.” If, therefore, they spoke the truth in giving such an answer, they would have all sinned. Since they humbly acknowledged it, the truth would be in them. However, if they lied in their response, they would still have sinned because the truth would not be in them.
That leaves us with this question: When John, who knew the Virgin Mary better than any of the other disciples, was willing to say that anyone who says they did not sin, they are deceiving themselves, and the truth is not in them, did he include Mary? If he didn’t, he should have said so; otherwise, he wouldn’t be telling the truth. Unfortunately, the medieval church did not explore Augustine’s idea about Mary. They declared her sinless. It seems to contradict what we find in the Book of Acts, where Mary joined the other disciples in praying to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) says that we all must one day explain how we lived to the coming Judge. So, it’s best to strengthen our cause before Him with tears and good works, that we may be worthy to have blessed assurance given us concerning the things that we have done. Even in the secular world, notes Gregory, a kind judge frequently grants a reprieve for this purpose, that one who did not receive counsel may come prepared to the trial. And what a mistake it would be were we to neglect for the salvation of the soul what we carefully attend to in matters of earthly concern!
According to the Apostle John’s words, no one is without sin. So, says Gregory, let us remind ourselves of things that influenced our thinking. We should not forget the harm we caused by our unbridled tongue and our wrongdoings. Never stop trying to get those stains on our character washed away so that our just and loving Redeemer may not need to give us the punishment we deserve. Instead, according to His mercy, allow us to experience the joy of forgiveness and pardon.
It is here that Bede the Venerable (672-735) shows some real confidence in his understanding of Scripture. He tells us that with this verse eight, the Apostle John refutes Pelagian’s teachings, who say that babies are born without sin and that the elect can make such progress in this life that it becomes possible for them to attain perfection. The Apostle John disagrees. We cannot be born without lawbreaking tendencies since we brought them with us when we came into the world.
Nevertheless, the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from all sin so that our guilt does not leave us in the power of the enemy of our soul – Satan. That’s because the man Jesus the Anointed One, the Mediator between God and man, freely paid the price for redemption on our behalf. He did so even though He owed nothing Himself. He surrendered to die in the flesh, which He did not deserve, to deliver us from the richly deserved death of our souls.
Bible scholar Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) answers whether sorrow is compatible with our moral virtues? Some say that it would seem that sorrow is incompatible with integrity because the virtues are effects of wisdom. A young Jewish writer explains, “If a man loves justice: her labors have great virtues; for she teaches temperance, and prudence, and justice, and fortitude, which are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life.” Solomon goes on to say, “When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her: for her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness.” Therefore, the questioner says, sorrow is incompatible with virtue. On the contrary, says Aquinas, the Anointed One was perfect in virtue. But there was sorrow in Him, for He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” Therefore, grief is compatible with goodness. I answer that, says Aquinas as Augustine says the Stoics held that in the mind of the wise man there are three eupatheiai (feelings of well-being), for example, “three good passions,” in place of the three hurting disturbances: namely, instead of covetousness, “desire”; instead of laughter, “joy”; instead of fear, “caution.” But they denied that anything corresponding to sorrow could be in the mind of a wise man.
 Didymus the Blind: Bray, G. (Ed.). op. cit., p. 172
 Augustine: Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, Ch. 17, p. 56
 Ibid. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2, City of God, Bk. 20, Ch. 17, pp. 922-923
 Ibid. A Treatise on Nature and Grace, Against Pelagius, Addressed to Timasius and Jocobus, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5, Ch. 42, pp.405-406
 Acts of the Apostles 1:14
 Gregory the Great (Part II), The Nicene and the Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. 13, Bk. 12, Epistle 1, to Dominicus, Bishop of Carthage, p.192
 Psalm 51:5
 Bede: On 1 John, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., p. 172
 Wisdom of Solomon 8:7, 16
 Matthew 26:38
 Augustine: City of God, Bk XIV, Chap. 8
 Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 2, The First Part of the Second Part, pp. 632-633