WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXVI) 09/01/21

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.

Albert Barnes (1872-1951) says the Apostle John repeats what he said before about sinners and now applies it to saints. If the person who sins is living wrong, then the person who does what is suitable is living right. In other words, if you break God’s law, it identifies you as a lawbreaker. Likewise, if you do what God’s law says, it recognizes you as a law keeper. Barnes notes that it is laid down as a great and undeniable principle in religion – a maxim that none could dispute and as vital as it is plain. And it is worthy of all the emphasis which John places on it. The person who does what’s right is a conscientious individual and no one else. I like how John Stock (1817-1884) puts it: “The Christian with their Cross is better than the worldlings with their crown.”[1]

Barnes goes on to say that no matter how anyone may claim justification by faith in fulfilling the external duties and rites of religion, it does not reach the level required by God for salvation, nor does their stand on fundamentalism or church laws. No matter how many visions or highly emotional moments they may have, nor their boast of how much peace and joy is in their soul, it still leaves them lacking. Also, what little emphasis they place on dying or going to heaven doesn’t count unless they are truly ethical in the proper sense of the term. Then, it is clear; they cannot be a child of God.[2]

To put it bluntly, if they are a person who keeps God’s law and leads a holy life, they are honorable, for that is true faith. However, such a person will always feel that their claim to be regarded as an honest person is not to be traced to what they are in themselves, but to what they are by the grace of God.[3] John Bradford (1510-1555) died a martyr in England by being burned at the stake on Monday, July 1, 1555. Before his death, he watched as city officials led several poor criminals through the city to their execution. As they passed by, the surrounding crowd heard Bradford say out loud, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” He knew that the same evil principles were in his heart which brought those criminals to a shameful end.[4]

Daniel C. Snaddon (1915-2009) states that the Gnostics made many claims about their knowledge of God for their spiritual lives, but were very careless in living for Him in their personal lives. There should be no confusion on this point. A person cannot have a holy life while living unholiness. But, on the other hand, a believer can only live a godly life because they have the moral nature of the Anointed One in them.[5]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that the Apostle John addressing his readers again as dear children before urging them: do not let anyone lead you astray. As John saw things, those who abandoned the congregation were not only living sinful lives themselves, but they were teaching others to do the same. Hence, the warning is found in this verse. The Apostle had already warned his readers about those who would deceive them.[6] In that case, John aimed his alarm at the deceivers who denied that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God. So, in the present verse, the author warns the readers again to be careful that no one can lead them away from the truth.

In this context, the warning relates to moral behavior, says Kruse, that the person who does what is right is law-abiding. Thus, it would appear that those who were trying to lead the readers astray were breaking the link between doing what is right and being honest. So, John already explained it as having fellowship with God and walking in the light, [7] between knowing God and obedience to His Word, [8] and between being in the Light and loving fellow believers.[9] These allusions to the teaching of those who forsook the church help us understand what the author means by “doing what is right.” It means walking in the Light because God is Light. It involves being obedient to His Word and showing love to fellow believers.

Once again, we face a problem, notes Kruse because it is unlikely that the seducers would have been interested any longer in claiming to be noble as Jesus the Anointed One is pure. Though they probably did make the distorted claim that they were spiritual, as God is upright. If this is the case, then it may be best to interpret this verse by saying that, in John’s mind, the virtuousness of Jesus the Anointed One reflects the character of God. Therefore, those misleading others would be less effective by any claims of being blameless as God is faithful by their failure to do what is right as Jesus did. Otherwise, it may be that for John, being honest as God is holy, is synonymous with being sinless as Jesus the Anointed One is honest. Thus, John felt no need to specify one or the other, even when he refutes the unfaithful members’ claims that the distinction would have been significant.[10]

Bruce B. Barton (1954) says that apparently, the false teachers who were denying the doctrine of the Anointed One[11] were also claiming that they knew God, yet they were living ungodly lives.[12] The Apostle John warned his dear children not to let anyone deceive [them] about this. When people do what is right, it shows that they are right-minded. Even as the Anointed One is moral, it does not mean that doing what is right makes people sinless, but rather that their right-doing is given to them by the Anointed One naturally leads to doing virtuous acts. In the same way, a tree that bears good fruit is healthy. Although the fruit doesn’t make the tree wholesome, it shows that it is productive.[13]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) says that getting confused and wrongheaded about the seriousness of sin can be a profound spiritual problem, especially when the satanic cherubs of our age sing that sin is no big deal. John, therefore, with fatherly firmness (“Little children”), warns his spiritual children against being deceived. “Let no one deceive you” is a present imperative. It is a word of command calling for persistent vigilance. It echoes the prior warning, “I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.”[14] Deception can take many forms. For instance, it can force us both doctrinal and morally into disbelieving the penalties of living poorly in a lifestyle of sin. It can also capture us socially when we fail to love others as God loved us.[15] [16]

David Legge (1969) points out that in verses seven and eight: to live a sinful lifestyle is not only lawlessness, and a denial of the Anointed One, and a betrayal of an absence of abiding, but these same verses tell us that it proves our spiritual parentage. These verses say: “Don’t be fooled, my little children, anyone who does right is good, just like the Anointed One. Anyone who keeps on sinning belongs to the devil. He has sinned from the beginning, but the Son of God came to destroy all he has done.”

Now here we have John telling us that you can only be conscientious if you have the nature of the Anointed One. You cannot become spiritually ethical just by doing your best to obey the rules. On the other hand, the Apostle Peter tells us, “We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s Spirit. But if you practice wrongdoing, the implication is that it’s not natural to God – unrighteousness isn’t in His nature.”[17] So then it begs the question: who is our father if we are habitual, in a lifestyle, practicing sin? John’s conclusion is: our father is the devil.[18]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) says that one of the reasons the Apostle John penned this epistle was to clear up such a mess and showcase the goodness of the good news afresh. Of course, in this letter, the problem is not merely moral randomness but false teachers. Imposters are out to deceive, and they have been betrayed. Their disinformation, like all other skillful lies, was appealing. Put simply; they claimed that a follower of Jesus could still be a child of God and live like a spoiled child of Satan. That is, a Christian could know they have been forgiven all their sins and yet knowingly continue in sin. That sounds pretty good! Seems that philosophy still sells. John, however, wants us to spew it out of our mouths and cut it out of our hearts and heads.

As a loving and protective parent, John warns Christians, prone to wander away from God’s fatherly hand, not to let that happen. “Whoever does what is right is faithful, as Jesus is trustworthy.[19] The Gospel is life-transforming! Don’t let anyone delude you about its effects. No one “born of God” lives godlessly. There is a black-and-white difference between the “child of the devil” and the “child of God.” The first one shoves in sin like barbecue pork on Fat Tuesday, and the second purges themselves from sin by daily practicing the Anointed One’s abiding uprightness.[20]


[1] Stock, J., An Exposition of the First Epistle General of St. John, op. cit., p. 261

[2] Matthew 7:16-23

[3] Albert Barnes: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4845

[4] Treatise on Prayer, Edward Bickersteth, published by Hooker & Agnew, Philadelphia, 1841, p. 60

[5] Snaddon, Daniel C., Plymouth Brethren Writings, 1 John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] 1 John 2:26

[7] Ibid. 1:5-7

[8] Ibid. 2:4-6

[9] Ibid. 2:9-11

[10] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[11] 1 John 2:22

[12] Ibid. 1:6

[13] Barton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., p. 68

[14] I John 2:26

[15] Ibid 3:10

[16] Akin, Dr. Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[17] 2 Peter 1:4

[18] Legge, David (1969) Preach the Word, 1,2,3, John, op. cit., Part 9

[19] 1 John 3:7

[20] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean, 1–3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

About drbob76

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