WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXVII) 08/13/21

3:4 But those who keep on sinning are against God, for every sin is contrary to God’s will.

Can you imagine the astonishment on the faces of those standing around watching John the Baptizer baptized those who came in repentance for their sins, when John suddenly looked up and saw Jesus coming toward him and cried out, “Look! There’s the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world!”[1] This truth about the Anointed One was undoubtedly etched in the Apostle Paul’s mind when he told the Roman believers that God sent the Anointed One Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us. He used the Anointed One’s blood and our faith as the means of saving us from His wrath.[2] And Paul confessed that he was one of the worst sinners God ever compassionately pardoned.[3]

So, how was this possible? The Anointed One not only died a merciless death on the cross, but He died as a result of God’s punishment for our sins by dying in our place. That was the only way God would accept us a being right with Him and issue us a free writ of pardon that we could be free from the penalty of eternal death.[4] The Apostle Peter found this so amazing that God would send His Son to carry the load of our sins to the cross personally and put Himself through such misery and pain just to help us quit sinning.[5] But that wasn’t all; God then had Jesus sit down beside Him so that any further sins we may commit and repent for could be forgiven through grace, love, and mercy.[6] And when John saw Jesus the Anointed One in his revelation, he identified Him as the One who loved us and made us free from our sins by pouring out His lifeblood on our behalf.[7]

COMMENTARY

Theophylact of Ohrid (1050-1108) said that sin stays away from good, whereas immorality is a transgression of the law. The first is a rejection of holiness as a general principle; the second is a particular violation of law and order. Therefore, the sinner is someone who goes against nature, and it is the nature of human beings to live rationally. Consequently, sin is something we must regard as being out of line with God’s will.[8]

In verse four, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is questioned whether justification involves the remission of sins? It would seem to some that the justification of the ungodly is not the remission of sins. For sin is opposed not only to justice, but to all the other virtues. Now, justification signifies a particular movement towards justice. Therefore, not even remission of sin is justification, since the action is from one contrary to the other. Furthermore, according to Greek philosopher Aristotle, “in everything the essence is identical with the ground of its being.”[9] Now the remission of sins is brought about chiefly by faith, [10] and according to King Solomon, “Love covers all sins.”[11] Therefore, the remission of sins ought to be named after faith or love rather than justice.[12] [13] Thus, while the work of the Anointed One provides the basis for justification, it does not forgive all of mankind’s sins. They must acknowledge their sin, confess their sin, and receive the promise of their sins being washed away.


In line with what John says here in verse four, Thomas Aquinas was also asked if it is an act of love when correcting one’s spiritual brother or sister for an offense against you? Again, it would seem that it is not an act of agape-love. When Jesus said, if your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong. Do this when you are alone with them.[14] As the Prophet stated, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other; in your courts, administer justice that is true and conducive to peace.”[15] Also, in the collections of Rabbi sayings by a Messianic Rabbi, we read: “The sages observe, If your friend wrongs you, scold him privately; if he listens to you, your goal is attained; if not, reprimand him before one or two; should he remain deaf to your advice, treat him as a hindrance.”[16] As such, they say, justice is a distinct virtue from love. Therefore, fraternal correction is an act, not of charity, but of justice.

Aquinas responds: To correct the wrongdoer is a spiritual act of charity. In that case, restoring a fellow brother or sister to fellowship is an act of lovingkindness. The discipline of the wrongdoer is a remedy we should use in dealing with anyone’s wrongdoing. A person’s sin may be considered in two ways, first as being harmful to the guilty individual. Secondly, it may result in the spiritual harm of others by hurting or embarrassing them or damaging to the good of God’s family.

James Arminius (1560-1609) made several propositions to which other Reformers gave answers. In one such recommendation, Arminius says that because Adam was the first human, everyone who followed was created in a state of supernatural grace. Therefore, no one could be considered just another animal. First, it’s because we were all fashioned in Adam after the image and likeness of God; but that is supernatural grace. Secondly, God’s instructions to Adam were for all who followed, which is evident in that all sinned in Adam and became guilty of transgressing the Law. 

To this, fellow Reformer Franciscus Junius (1545-1602) answered Arminius: Your projection, namely, “Adam, and all those in him, were created in a state of supernatural grace,” is very unclear. You say, namely, that what was natural to Adam became the rule for everyone. All God said was that Adam should not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. According to Junius, it is not credible that this law should be valid for everyone who followed Adam. Neither is it reliable to say that if all had remained unfallen, they would have to come to Eden’s Garden to eat the fruit of that tree to test their obedience.

But Arminius will not let this go. He tells Junius, I’ve concluded that God in predestination would not have left anyone out because they were nothing more than animals. I based my first argument on humanity’s divine nature.[17] I founded my other argument on the fact God imposed His law on the first human – from which all humanity came. Therefore, God already knew about His supernatural grace. Moreover, since sin is the transgression of the law, [18] the law cannot be transgressed by those for whom it was not enacted. Hence, Adam disobeyed before Eve conceived her firstborn son, Cain. As such, it is inherent in human nature. Therefore, no one comes into the world born-again. Adam sinned against no other law, and, indeed, we are all guilty of breaking the law. Thus, the law was compulsory for all Adam’s descendants.[19]

As we can see, the arguments concerning the “original sin” question started early in the Protestant movement. Many argued over this today. The most heard objection is this: Why should I be guilty of a sin I didn’t commit? That would be like someone saying, “Why should I have red hair, or green eyes, or come with black, white, or brown skin? That would not have been my choice.” It happened because such features are genetic; they came in the sperm and egg we all came from in our mother’s womb. You can’t go back and change it. That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus, what is born of the flesh and the Spirit is different.[20]

John Bunyan, writing on the doctrine of the Law and Grace, states that there are still some in Gospel times who are still under the Torah. He notes that the Apostle Paul stated that there could be no transgression of the law if there is no law.[21] Yet, although sin is not imputed when there is no law; nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses.[22] But if there had been no law, then no transgression would have occurred. So, how could death follow as the wages of sin?[23] Sin is the breaking of the law. It includes any personal wrongdoing, as well as any public misconduct, as John says here in verse four.[24] Death was pronounced on the sin of Adam and Eve, not after Torah was given to Moses. Had God not taken action, there would have been no Law to show us what sinning really is and no Savior to rescue us from the death penalty.

George Swinnock (1627-1673) states that sin crosses the line of God’s Law, a violation of His command, a contradiction of His will. Listen to what the Apostle John says: “These are the ones who are not God’s children: those who don’t do what is right and those who do not love their brothers and sisters in God’s family.”[25] It means we do not value our obedience or disobedience according to how important or unimportant the law was that we broke, nor how much harm it caused to us or others. Instead, we judge its seriousness based on the person’s authority who gave the law that forbids such action.[26]


[1] John 1:29

[2] Romans 3:25

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Titus 2:14

[5] 1 Peter 2:24

[6] Hebrews 1:3; See 9:28

[7] Revelation 1:5

[8] Theophylact of Ohrid: Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, p. 197

[9] De Anima: On the Soul by Aristotle, Bk. II, Part 5

[10] Acts of the Apostles 15:9

[11] Proverbs 10:12

[12] Mark 2:10

[13] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 2, P(2a)-Q(113)-A(1) p.1368-1369

[14] Matthew 18:15

[15] Zechariah 8:16

[16] Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol: Mivchar-HaPninim (“The Choice Pearls”) #269

[17] Genesis 1:26

[18] 1 John 3:4

[19] Arminius, James, Works of: Reply of Arminius to the Answer of Junius to the Fourteenth Proposition, Vol. 3, pp. 148-149, 157-158

[20] John 3:5

[21] Romans 4:15

[22] Ibid. 5:13-14

[23] Ibid. 6:23

[24] Bunyan’s Practical Works: Vol. 7, The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Folded, Ch. 1 p. 181

[25] 1 John 3:4

[26] Swinnock, George, The Works of: Vol. 4, Ch. 18, p. 457

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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