WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XLII) 09/09/21

3:8 But when people habitually sin, it shows that they belong lucifer, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’ empire.

Nevertheless, there is a cure for sin because the Son of God came to destroy the evil serpent’s empire.[1] The Greek verb lyōdestroy” does not mean to annihilate; instead, it means “to break down,[2]to undo,” “to render ineffective.” Though it would have made more sense, humanly speaking, for the Anointed One to have obliterated Satan, He didn’t. Instead, He came to undo Satan’s work and thereby free people from sin and all its awful consequences. John was therefore arguing that Christians cannot stay involved in something the Anointed One came to destroy.[3]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) states that verse eight is one of the most straightforward statements in all of God’s Word by telling us why the Anointed One originally came. For the first time in his letter, the Apostle John refers specifically and directly to our main enemy, the prince of darkness.[4] The Greek word for “devil” is diabolos and appears four times in verses eight through ten and means “accuser” or “slanderer.” The Hebrew counterpart, śaṭan, means “adversary.” These words well describe the character and tactics of our ancient foe. Jesus came on the scene to take away sin and “to tear down what God’s adversary put together.” Here in verse eight, Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God,” the first of seven occurrences in First John.[5] That means the Second Person of the triune Godhead invaded enemy territory and put our enemy down in a complete and total victory.

Akin then quotes theologian John Piper (1946), who said, “Christmas is because God aims to destroy something.”[6]  God infiltrated the rebel planet earth on a search and destroy mission. He came, searched out, and destroyed the works of Satan. He blew him up! Seeing verse eight in parallel with verse five, we see that the lies and schemes of the evil one, which our Savior came to destroy, are sins. His atonement nullified sin’s penalty for the child of God. That means the new birth neutralizes sin’s power and deals a death blow on Calvary’s hill. And, by virtue of His two appearing’s, sin’s presence will soon pass away forever. Jesus delivered a knockout punch on the cross. An empty tomb is an eternal monument to His victory and ours![7]

Peter Pett (1966) notes that the Apostle John wants to make sure that no one leads his “little children” astray and deceives them about the truth. Each person, says John, has one of two primary aims, either to practice living right in every aspect of their lives, that is, by seeking to live as God has revealed in order to do His will, (including obedience to His Instruction or Law in the Scriptures), or to go on practicing sin and thus demonstrating that they are careless about God’s will for their lives. People are either for God or against Him. The one puts righteous living into practice because they seek to please and be like the Righteous One. After all, there are rightful tendencies implanted within them. Such people are aiming to be like Him because they are His. The other is of the old liar of Eden himself. Such people are lawless, just like Satan has been, right from the beginning. They do not want God’s laws or seek His will. “From the beginning” is probably a reference to Genesis 3-4. They set themselves against God’s will just as he did.

To this end was the Son of God manifested, says Pett, that He might destroy the works of God’s main enemy. Indeed, this was why Jesus came into the world. He came as the Light so that what the evil beast fashioned was exposed and to nullify its penalty. Rebellion and lawlessness are the devil’s work. First of all, the lying serpent tricked mankind into rebelling against God in the Garden of Eden, who stirred up Cain to kill Abel, and he has been doing it ever since. So, Jesus came to restrain him and to bring humanity back under the Kingly Rule of God. That was the purpose of His coming.[8]

David Legge (1969) explains that he believes that the language of this doctrine of sinless perfectionism has been a curse on the church and Christianity. That’s because, on the one hand, it advocates the distinct possibility of being perfect, yet when pressing its proponents, they admit it has eluded them. To put it another way, eventually, not sinning in the biblical sense means sinning only at intervals, as exceptions rather than the rule. So, even they define this “not sinning” in the Bible as “not sinning in a lifestyle of sinful existence.” Therefore, notes Legge, this is precisely what John means.

For instance, when we look at this word “sins” that we find in verse eight, we see that this Greek verb poieō, for “commit” literally means “to make” or “to do,” which implies continues sinning, in the present continuous tense. That means it is someone who is doing sin now and continues to sin. So, it is speaking of repeated behavior. It means a sinful lifestyle, so whenever you find this in First John, when it talks about sinning, it speaks of a profane existence, habitual practice of sin. As the NIV puts it: “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning, no one who continues to sin has neither met Him nor gotten to know Him.”.[9]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) agrees that by Jesus’ incarnation, he appeared in order “to destroy the works of the devil.” How interesting to think of Jesus’ human embodiment as something destructive. Jesus conquered sin and hell. Christus Victor! On the cross, the offspring of Eve crushed the serpent’s head.[10] That means Satan – who sinned before the creation of the world and is the source of sin in the world[11] – was defeated in the death of the Messiah. The second appearance is the second coming, referenced by the phrase “when He appears.” [12] That coming will be constructive. We will become like Jesus.[13]

3:9 Those who are God’s children do not continue to sin because of the new life God gave stays in them. Therefore, they cannot keep sinning because they have become God’s children.

EXPOSITION

As the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptizer, known as the “Lamp,” publicly announced that He who was coming to take his place would be known as the “Light[14] so they could believe in God’s plan of salvation. Then the Apostle John expounded on this by saying that some people did accept Him. They believed in Him as the Messiah, the Son of God, and He gave them the right to become children of God. But they did not become God’s children in the way babies are usually born. It was not because of any human desire or plan. Instead, they were born when God breathed spiritual life into them.[15]

The Apostle Peter gave testimony to this same truth when he said that all believers are born again, and this new life does not come from a limited source but from something that cannot die. They are born again through God’s living message that continues forever.[16] As every orchard manager knows, a healthy tree does not produce inedible fruit, nor does an infected tree produce edible fruit.[17] That’s why the Apostle Paul warned the Galatians that, just like Eve, the devil tempts us to eat from the tree of forbidden fruit even when we know it’s harmful to us and can ruin us. It creates a real internal war in our hearts and minds.[18] So, any help that we can depend on to help us comes from God and His Spirit dwelling in us to help strengthen our resolve to conform to the image of the Anointed One.

Having stated that “those who do sin are of the devil,” the Apostle John now tells the truth from the other side; not “those who do not sin are of God.” It hardly needs repeating, but everyone born of God does not sin, which is startling. Who, then, can be born sinless by God? But the statement is similar to that in verse six and is to be understood the same way. It means, if any believer sins, their regeneration is incomplete. If the new birth from God were perfect, sin would be morally impossible. The new principle of life abides and grows in them, and, under ideal conditions, it entirely prevents the old unregenerate nature from rebelling. Note that John does not say “cannot commit sin,” but “cannot continue sinning.” It is an ideal to which every Christian is bound to aspire—inability to sin. But to some extent, conforming to this model is every faithful Christian’s prayer.


[1]Devil” is from the Greek adjective diabolos. It means someone who slanders, accuses falsely. Metaphorically it is applied to a person who, by opposing the cause of God, may be said to act the part of the devil or to side with him. But the Jews do not believe in the devil of Christian theology. They do believe in Satan as introduced in Genesis. Some Bible scholars believe that Christian play the “devil’s advocate” themselves to interrogate their beliefs for any possible doubts. Cf. Psalm 139:24

[2] See Ephesians 2:4

[3] Burton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary). op. cit., pp. 68-69

[4] Cf. 1 John 3:12; also 2:13-14; 5:18-19

[5] See 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5,10,12,13,20

[6] Spiritual Warfare: Knowing the Conqueror, Article: The Son of God Appeared to Destroy the Works of the Devil, p. 9

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

[8] Pett, Peter: Truth According to Scripture Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1,2,3, John, op. cit., Part 9

[10] Genesis 3:15

[11] See John 8:44

[12] 1 John 2:28; 3:2

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

[14] John 5:35

[15] Ibid. 1:13

[16] 1 Peter 1:23

[17] Matthew 7:18

[18] Galatians 5:17

About drbob76

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