WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXIV) 08/16/21

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

William Burkitt (1650-1703) says there’s one thing we can learn from this: nothing can be more unreasonable and absurd than to expect salvation from God in heaven by a sinless Savior here on earth if we allow ourselves to continue sinning; nothing could be more contrary to the purpose of the Anointed One’s death, which was not only to deliver us from the danger but from the dominion of our sinful tendencies; not only to provide compensation for our sins but to make us sinless like Himself.[1]

James Morgan (1799-1873) explains how denouncing sin is a transgression of the Law. What else but the Law could give us a more significant warning? It teaches us what lawlessness is. The very fact that a law exists to govern our conduct should be enough to get our attention. Did not God tell Adam and Eve, “The moment you eat from that tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you’re as good as dead?[2] We can liken such warnings to those given by tall lighthouses to warn against possible shipwreck or the low lights that guide a ship into a safe and peaceful harbor.

However, says Morgan, it is essential to know that we must obey laws, but the responsibility increases with God’s Law. He is the Lawgiver. He knows what we need to live holy lives and has the authority to enforce it. It is the copy of what’s in His mind, and to disobey it means rebelling against Him. God’s Law is perfect and worthy of His endorsement. He gave it for us to follow because it serves the best interests of those subject to it. It is holy – distinguishing between right and wrong, good and evil. It is fair – never claiming anything beyond what God is justified to require of people instructed to live by it. And it is good – securing the best advantages to all who obey it.[3]

Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918), in his commentary on sin and the coming judgment, notes that natural humanity is sinful, not because of what they do but because of what they are. We must be careful to interpret this well-known conclusion as a theological statement of doctrine. An examination of the Greek noun hamartia (translated as “sin” – KJV) the Apostle John uses in verse four must be seen in a far broader scope than “missing the mark.” Hamartia is used throughout the Final Covenant as a generic term for “sin.”[4] But it is much more than simply not obeying the law. It also implies an offense, a violation of the divine law in thought or act. Therefore, it’s used the same way we employ the word “anarchy” for mankind’s laws when we utilize it concerning God’s law. As such, sin is a revolt against God’s Word and Will.[5]

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) helps us understand what “sin” means in verse four. It goes beyond making a mistake; the law of God was given to mankind as a rule of life. The Apostle John aims to urge his readers to live holy and discourage them from sinning. No doubt he still had in mind what he said in the previous verse about everyone who has the hope of heaven will aim to be holy like the Savior. To confirm this, John shows them that, as a matter of fact, those born of God commit themselves to live obedient lives, and this he introduces by exposing sin’s nature.

According to Barnes, that among those things that dampen our thirst for indulging in sin we should consider the following: (a) all sin is a violation of God’s law.[6] (b) the very object of the coming of the Anointed One was to deliver mankind from evil.[7] (c) those who are true Christians do not habitually sin.[8] (d) those who sin cannot be true Christians but are of the devil.[9] And (e) those born of God have a seed or principle of true holiness in them and cannot sin.[10] It seems evident that the Apostle John is combating an opinion that people might sin and yet be true Christians.[11] He worried that this opinion would become prevalent in the Church.[12]

William E Jelf (1811-1875) notes that it seems as if the Apostle John was arguing against some mistaken views on the subject of Christian duty. It is implied in the phrase “let no one deceive you,”[13] as John insists on the moral identity between hamartia (“missing the mark”) and anomia (“Lawlessness”). It would seem, says Jelf, as if those against whom he is arguing tried to distinguish between them. We may observe further that brotherly love and inward purity, on which John had spoken, might misinterpret by some as not required since it was already part of human law.

Furthermore, notes Jelf, some claim that law violations are only misdemeanors due to a person’s failure, such as hamartia: (“missing the mark, falling short”). But should not be considered violations of society’s requirements as embodied in the Jewish law system, in which case the offender would be a Jew or an outlaw under the heathen moral code. In either case, they may have converted from Judaism or heathenism, but not realizing the spiritual and internal morality, may have argued that as the sins opposite to these graces insisted on by John concerned only oneself, and not the well-being of society; thus, they were not necessary. The Apostle John certainly counters this by stating that the foundation upon which they based these distinctions does not exist. Any act of breaking God’s law is one of lawlessness.[14]

Brooke Westcott (1825-1901) points out that the Apostle John tells us to purify ourselves so that we are not contaminated by sin because that is lawless living. No, that doesn’t mean such a person is an outlaw as far as the legal standards of this world are concerned, but lawless by the fact that they ignore God’s laws for righteous and holy living.[15] Some of God’s laws are in the same category as speed limits, trespassing, jaywalking, shoplifting, misbehaving, etc., which we often call “misdemeanors.” In addition, we might include such things as “hating our neighbor, wishing ill or bad luck on someone, of not going the second mile, or not forgiving someone seventy times seven.[16] However, our Lord made it clear that all sins will be forgiven, including the bad things they say about God. But if anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit, they will never be forgiven. They are guilty of a sin that lasts forever.[17] Here on earth, this same judgment is pronounced on those who commit premeditated murder. Only in the case of God’s law, it is a person’s way of committing spiritual suicide.

Robert Law (1860-1919) points out that it is noticeable that this verse corresponds in thought and effect to what the Apostle John said earlier in this Epistle.[18] There, right living was exhibited as the “keeping of God’s commandments.” So here, sin is defined as “repudiation of the whole authority and aim of God’s moral government.” It is expressed with precision. Sin is essentially lawlessness, whatever action or law may be involved.  It is to set up, as the rule of life, whether by one’s will instead of the perfect will of God. But this argument against being uninterested in the role of morals – that every act of sin is the assertion of a lawless will and in defiance of moral authority – while it is a truth that lies at the basis of Christianity, is not the specifically Christian expression of that truth. John will give that next. Indifference to sin, in whatever degree, on whatever pretext, is the direct negation of the whole purpose of the Anointed One’s mission and the full significance of the Anointed One’s character.[19]

Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945) concludes that the Apostle John teaches that the sinner, then, sins, which shows itself in their spiritual state, and the moral root of their nature as a sinner – being lawless. But the one born of God is in a different position. They know the Anointed One revealed Himself to take away our sins because in Him there was no sin. If the believer sins, they have lost sight of the Anointed One and do not perform in the new life they received. Another thing that seizes the place of the Anointed One is one’s self-will that exposes them to the devil’s tricks, who uses their old nature to lead them back into the world. If a person lives habitually in sin, they have not met the Anointed One nor gotten to know Him. A child of God may commit sin, but they are no longer living in sin; if a professing believer constantly lives in immorality, it is evident they never knew Him at all. Some false teachers tried to deceive them. Their instructions included a denial of holiness and that there was no need for right living. But the demand is for righteousness. Those who live habitually in sin are of the devil. No true believer lives that way, for they know the One whose life they possess came into their lives that He might destroy the devil’s schemes.[20]


[1] Burkitt, Robert: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 767

[2] Genesis 2:17

[3] Morgan, James: Biblical Illustrator, First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 115-116

[4] According to Strong’s Concordance, equivalent to 264 times.

[5] Anderson, Sir Robert: The Fundamentals, R. A. Torrey (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. 3, Ch. 3, pp. 36-37

[6] 1 John 3:4

[7] Ibid. 3:5

[8] Ibid. 3:6

[9] Ibid. 3:8

[10] Ibid. 3:9

[11] Ibid. 3:7

[12] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., pp. 4839-4840

[13] 1 John 3:7

[14] Jelf, W. E., A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 41

[15] Westcott, Brooke: Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 101-102

[16] See Matthew 18:21-22

[17] Mark 3:28-29

[18] 1 John 2:3-4

[19] Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 216-217

[20] Gaebelein, Arno, C: The Annotated Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

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