WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXV) 08/31/21

3:7 Oh, my dear children, don’t let anyone give you the wrong idea about this. The Anointed One dwelling in you always does what is right. So, in order for you to be more like the Anointed One, you must also do whatever is right.

A holy God does not tolerate sin to the slightest degree. That is why we need to be right with God to go to heaven.[1] It is not human goodness but Godly fairness. No respectability found in us is adequate; all our virtues are as filthy rags.[2]  Generosity by good works is not the graciousness of God.  Anything but God’s conscientious goodness is just a religious coating.  When we come to the end of life’s short day, only God-approved integrity will be acceptable to Him, not our artificial friendliness.  Our morality is irrelevant and incidental. 

COMMENTARY

I like how Bede the Venerable (673-735) puts it: “It goes without saying that we can never be upright in the same complete way that God is righteous.” The difference between God’s virtues and ours is the same as looking at one’s face in a mirror. There is a certain resemblance, but the two substances are entirely different. Therefore, the comparison is not at all the same as the likeness between the Father and the Son when it comes to nobleness, and our mirror image of the Anointed One’s ethics reflecting in us.[3]

In verse seven, John Trapp (1601-1669) expounds on what the Apostle John refers to as being ethical in our Christian lifestyle. But, he says, provided that they do it from a correct point of view. Otherwise, as King Ahab humbled himself, [4] men may naturally perform an outward honorable act yet not be law-abiding inside. Alexander the Great was troubled in conscience after becoming drunk killed Clitus the Black in 328 BC, who saved his life at the Battle of Granicus earlier in 334 BC. So, he sent for philosophers to advise him on what he might do to appease his conscience and quiet his guilt.[5] Then we have the soldier Uriah the Hittite, who transported the altar to Damascus and was called “a faithful witness.[6] He was true to his word, yet no one thought he was noble. So, it is as the Apostle Paul said, “We are saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. It is God’s gift to us, and not anything we have done on our own.”[7] Once this happens, then come those deeds done in love. Trapp quotes an anonymous theologian who said, “By doing pure things in the right way, we are made righteous.” But that is a complete denial of salvation by grace, not by works.[8]

Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) writes about the justification of mankind before God and says that since the word “justification” is deduced from justice, from this concept, its significance will appropriately result in justice or virtuous deeds. When properly considered, it signifies morality or an agreement for the right reasons. [9]And it is contemplated either as a quality or an act – is a fixed attribute in a subject, an act produced by an efficient cause. Thus, the word “justification” denotes (a) an act that is occupied either in infusing the quality of blamelessness into some person or, (b) in acquiring it for them or, (c) in forming a judgment on a person and their acts in pronouncing a sentence on them.[10]

John Flavel (1627-1691) states that having seen what the receiving of Jesus the Anointed One is, we understand that it is the faith by which we are justified and saved. Next, we come to the Dignity and Excellency of this faith, whose praises are throughout the Scriptures. It is the instrument of our justification.[11] Till we receive the Anointed One, we remain in sin – under guilt and condemnation; but when faith comes, then comes freedom: “Through Jesus, everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were unable to obtain under the law of Moses.”[12] What respect, asks Flavel, would you for a pardon that was placed in your hand while you were on the ladder to the gallows or guillotine block? A pardon, which you cannot read without tears of joy, is brought to you by the hand of faith. O immeasurable grace! You place Jesus’ cloak of purity over your defiled souls, which causes you to become “the charitableness of God in Him,” or, “commendable as He is creditable,” not some inherent devotion of your own, but with a relative example from another.[13]

John Bunyan (1628-1688), in his discourse on the Pharisee and the Publican,[14] notes how unsafe the Pharisee’s self-righteousness was. He hints that many believers do not want their meritorious deeds examined for fear of finding faults and failures. What the Pharisee was ignorant of is the fact that in order for him to live right before his fellow man, he had to live right before God. A person then must be honest according to the law before doing saintly acts according to the Gospel. Hence first, you have true Gospel-morality whose fruit is a new birth.[15] Not born out of that person’s moral virtues, but born by virtue of the Anointed One’s mighty working with His word upon the soul. Who, afterward, acts and works trustworthy from a principle of life? And John says again, “Little children, don’t be fooled. Anyone who does right is doing good, just like the Anointed One Himself.”[16] And this scripture gives us two things to consider. The first is that those who only act devoutly are not right-minded. The second is that they who do what is right are worthy, as the Anointed One is sinless.[17]

Acting with Godly kindness in dealing with all people, says George Swinnock (1627-1673), consists partly of the way you perform and the principles behind your kindness, and your aim and purpose for being involved. First, be careful how you approach others; let your attitude be honest, humble, and hospitable. Second, do what is right in dealing with others. Conscientiousness is a virtue that guides and orders the whole person for the good of their neighbor, making the right choices, the affections to love and desire, and acting wholesomely to do what may for the welfare of others. Being ethical is of great importance to godliness that it is sometimes an illustration for every believer in union with the Anointed One.[18] Those who live right are honorable.[19] [20]

William Burkitt (1662-1703) points out that Christians should not concentrate on their affections, desires, joys, and comforts. Instead, examine what actions they will take, not their peace of mind, but what path they chose to carry out God’s will. For God does not measure people’s sincerity by their tides of affections, but by the constant resolve of their resolutions and the general course and tenor of their conversation.[21]

Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) clarifies that being law-abiding signifies a divine family relationship with God. Doing what is right reveals the character of a person; it does not create it. Their actions identify the noble person. In other words, a person’s character is the foundation upon which honorable deeds are built. What the Apostle John says here compares to what he says in his Gospel.[22] But there is more to consider. The pureness of any believer is that of the Anointed One dwelling in them. It is what gives them not only spiritual life, but life more abundantly.[23] Unlike what some early church scholars say about comparing the spiritualness of the believer and the uprightness of the Anointed One, our virtuousness is merely a reflection of His.[24]

William E. Shepard (1862-1930) focuses on the statement, “There is none righteous, no not one.”[25] Here we again face the necessity of studying the context to understand the meaning of a verse properly. To take out this segment of the text will immediately entangle a person in such a snare of contradiction that they will be unable to extricate themselves. The word of God properly understood does not contradict itself. When we find some statement that is an apparent discrepancy, which flies in the face of the general tenor of the Scriptures, we should neither expose our ignorance in the improper use of it nor by “handling God’s Word deceitfully.” If we believe that it means that there is none blameless in the world, we should place this portion of the text alongside the practical teaching of God’s Word. In that case, we would at once find ourselves in a dilemma, and the odds would be against us. Let us place it beside a few verses like the following: “Oh, dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: if you are constantly doing what is good, it is because you are good, even as He is.[26] It would seem from this text that John was warning them against those who claimed there were charitable, declaring that “Only those who do what is right are trustworthy.”[27]


[1] Roman 3:22; 4:5; 5:17; 10:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:7, 9; Hebrews 11:7

[2] Isaiah 64:6

[3] Bede the Venerable: Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, p. 198

[4] 1 Kings 21:29

[5] Plutarch: The Life of Alexander the Great

[6] Isaiah 8:2

[7] Ephesians 8:2

[8] John Trapp: Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 728-729

[9] Psalm 11:7; Ephesians 6:14; Philippians 1:11; 1 John, 3:7

[10] The Works of Jacobus Arminius: Vol. 1, Disputation 19, p. 536

[11] Romans 5:1

[12] Acts 13:39; Romans 8:1

[13] John Flavel: The Method of Grace, p. 114

[14] Luke 18:9-14

[15] 1 John 2:29

[16] 1 John 3:7

[17] Bunyan, John, Practical Works: Vol. 5, The Strait Gate, Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, Ch. 7, pp. 228-234

[18] 1 John 3:7

[19] Roman 6:17

[20] Swinnock, George, The Works of: Vol. 2, The Christian Man’s Calling, Part III, Sec. II, p. 194

[21] Burkitt, William: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 767

[22] John 3:31

[23] Cf. John 13:15; 15:12; 17:14

[24] Westcott, Brooke: Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 105

[25] Romans 3:10

[26] 1 John 3:7

[27] Shepard, William E., Wrested Scriptures Made Plan, Ch. 2, op. cit., p. 8

About drbob76

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