NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXIII) 03/03/21
Ben Witherington points to these two views of “no sin” or “not sinned” as hypothetical but with danger. When they say “no sin,” this is a claim seen as the ultimate form of self-deception and a clear sign that they do not recognize the truth. They present themselves as perfectionists who, once they were born again, all sin and sinning were canceled and have never been allowed to return. There is no reason to compare them with those who fail over and over, attempting perfect obedience to the Law. That’s because their deception causes them to claim that Grace allows them to always be in Grace. That way, any sins they may commit are automatically deleted from their record. Although Witherington does not mention it here, the same holds true for those who say that since they’ve been born again and sanctified, they have not sinned.
Colin G. Kruse begins where John states that “if a person claims to be without sin…” (lit. ‘If they say that they do not have any sin’), they are making of the claim of sanctification as a completed act. But what the Apostle John refers to as “being without sin” is presented as an ongoing action. Contrary to what some people proclaim: “If we claim to be without sin…” does not reflect the pretenders’ assertion that they have a sinless nature but are free from the sin principle that operates in other human beings. The expression “to have sin” is found only here in 1 John, but it occurs four times in the Fourth Gospel. In each case, it means to be guilty of sin. Allowing this usage to guide us, we would be saying that what the claimants were asserting was not that they were by nature free from the sin principle but that they were not guilty of committing sins at all. They probably meant they had no unforgiven sins since they came to know God and experienced the anointing.
David Jackman tells how he counseled new believers who became discouraged in the Christian journey with the Anointed One because they now see themselves as more of a sinner than they did before their conversion. But notice what is happening, says Jackman. Their sense of sin is a result of walking in the Light! They see specific actions, words, or attitudes as sin now, which never bothered them before. Their consciences are being educated and sensitized by the Spirit through God’s Word. One of God’s projects in a growing Christian’s life is to peel back more and more layers of our hidden depravity and sinfulness so that we start to see ourselves as we are in God’s Light. But this project of God has a glorious end-purpose. We should become clean deep down. We are not as vulnerable to lawbreaking tendencies as we used to be. Likewise, we do not just walk with the Anointed One; we are progressing with Him toward our goal of irreversible sanctification. Unfortunately, some try to dodge the issue; they look for an escape route, a sure path to the road of darkness.
Simon J. Kistenmaker gives us an essential piece of information in understanding the word “sin.” As a noun, sin describes the cause and the consequence of an act of disobedience to God’s Word. As a verb, it represents the act itself. So in verse eight, it is used as a noun, and verse ten as a verb. We might say that we are not sinning as long as we are only thinking about it. But Jesus had a different opinion. Jesus said, if a man looks at a woman with lust, he has committed adultery in his heart. King David had a similar idea when we prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
1:9a That’s why John offers this remedy. But if we confess that we have made mistakes, God will forgive us . . .
God laid down this standard with the children of Israel in the Sinai desert when He had Moses tell them that if the people were to confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors, maybe they will admit they turned against Me and sinned against Me. Suppose these disobedient people are sorry for what they did and accept punishment for their sin. In that case, I will remember My covenant with Jacob, My agreement with Isaac, and My promises to Abraham, and I will remember their nation. This truth even followed them into their exile. If you want to read a real sinner’s prayer, look at the prophet Nehemiah’s words.
King David learned this lesson first-hand. He was under so much conviction because of his adultery with Bathsheba, and their first child died. He felt so desperate and despondent that he decided to confess his sins to the Lord. Furthermore, he stopped hiding his guilt and told God about his sins. And God forgave them all! Amen! That’s why his son Solomon could say with certainty that whoever hides their sins will not be successful, but whoever confesses their sins and stops doing wrong will receive mercy. Nowhere do we find it said in Scripture to “beg” God for forgiveness, nor does it say we might be successful if we try giving Him gifts or a bribe – Lord, if You do this for me, I’ll do that for You.
No, says John. All it takes is an honest confession, hoping for forgiveness, and the resolve never to do what we did wrong again. Moses assured the people of Israel that the Lord their God is the only God, and you can trust Him! He keeps His agreement. He shows His love and kindness to all people who love Him and obey His commands. Not only that, but he continues to show His love and kindness through a thousand generations. Jeremiah says that God’s faithfulness is great; His loving-kindness begins afresh each day. That’s why the Apostle Paul could tell the Corinthians to put their trust in God. He is the One who chose them to share life with His Son, Jesus the Anointed One, our Lord. And the writer of Hebrews said that we must never lose hope; we should never hesitate to tell people about the truth that you can trust God to do all that He promised to do.
David was not satisfied to just confess his sins and have them forgiven; he even told the LORD to find any sins that might be lurking in his heart along with hidden faults. In other words, he not only wanted a forgiven heart but a clean heart. That’s why Jeremiah was only too happy to inform the children of God that He will cleanse away all their sins against Him and pardon them.
After God used Moses to lead Israel’s children out of Egyptian bondage, they found themselves continually falling back into old habits. So, Moses told them: “Remember that the Lord your God is the only true God, and you can trust Him! He keeps His agreement. He shows His love and kindness to all people who love Him and obey His commands. Not only that, but he continues to show His love and kindness generation after generation.” In other words, God will never revise, edit, or change His way of dealing with those who make errors and are willing to repent.
David talks about how he kept trying to deal with his sin. He says: “But then I decided to confess my sins to the Lord. I stopped hiding my guilt and told Him about my sins. And He forgave them all!” It was true, especially after David’s dark sin with Bathsheba and her husband’s ordered death. He cried and prayed but couldn’t get it out of his mind, so finally, he calls out, “God, be merciful to me because of Your faithful love. Because of Your great compassion, erase all the wrongs I have done. Scrub away my guilt. Wash me clean from my sin.” David would have never prayed this if he didn’t believe it. So here, John echoes the words of Solomon: “Whoever hides their sins will not be successful, but whoever confesses their sins and stops doing wrong will receive mercy.”
Bede the Venerable (672-735) says that since we cannot live in this world without sin, the first hope we have of salvation is through confession. No one should be so proud as to claim they are already right in the eyes of God. The next step is love, which John often commends to us in this letter because love covers a multitude of sins. Each of these things encourages us to pray for our sins and to ask God’s forgiveness when we do so. It is why John says that God is faithful and will forgive our sins, pointing to the reliability of His promise, for Jesus, who taught us to pray for our sins and trespasses, has also promised the Father’s mercy and the forgiveness which flows from His heart.
Bede then points out that John also says that God is just because He will forgive anyone who honestly confesses their sins. In this life, God forgives the elect’s every day, trivial sins, which we cannot avoid as long as we are here on earth. Now He forgives those who admit their greatest temptations so that they will not overpower them, and He forgives those with the least amount of sins as well so that they will not suffer any harm. So far so good, but then Bede goes on and claims that after we die, He cleanses us from all sin and brings us into that life in which no one wants or can sin so that there will no longer be any sign of wickedness in the eternal kingdom of the blessed.
 Witherington III, Ben: Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., Kindle Location 6061
 John 9:41; 15:22, 24; 19:11
 Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, op. cit., (Kindle Locations 1402-1410)
 Jackman, David, op. cit., p. 34
 Kistenmaker, Simon J., op. cit., p. 245
 Matthew 5:28
 Psalm 139:23-24
 Leviticus 26:40, 42
 1 King 8:47; 2 Chronicles 6:37-38
 Nehemiah 1:6-7
 Psalm 32:6
 Proverbs 28:13
 Lamentations 3:23
 1 Corinthians 1:9
 Hebrews 10:23
 Psalm 19:12; 51:2
 Jeremiah 33:8
 Deuteronomy 7:9
 Psalm 32:5; See Psalm 51:2-5
 Ibid. 51:1-2
 Proverbs 28:13
 Bede: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., pp. 172–173