WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XLIV) 09/13/21

3:9 The person who has been born into God’s family does not make a practice of sinning because now God’s life is in them; so they can’t keep on sinning, for this new life controls them – they have been born again.

A fish does not fly around in the air, and a bird does not live underwater. In the case of believers, they are not two different species, but they have two different characteristics – a fish and a bird’s personality. All the time they sin, they live according to their fallen nature and are out of fellowship with the Lord. However, whenever they allow the Holy Spirit to control their life, their divine nature is in charge. They cannot sin while guided by the Holy Spirit. Each Christian possesses a character that can do wrong and a personality that cannot sin as long as they stay intimately connected with the Anointed One. It all revolves around their choice.  In practice, they have the capacity to do wrong. There is no such thing as “partial” spirituality. Either we are spiritual, or we are not. So, spiritual living is an either/or issue. Everyone has two options, but they must let go of one to get the other.

For instance, if you find yourself hanging at the end of a rope over a raging river, either you must hold on until rescued or let go and risk death. You can’t have both. During the French Revolution, King Louis XVI’s wife, Marie-Antionette, was heard to say about the people, “they can’t have cake and eat it too.”[1] In other words, a cake will not remain whole once you start eating it. In the same sense, a believer cannot maintain healthy minds, hearts, and bodies while eating the unhealthy food of the world that will cause their spiritual death.

COMMENTARY

Didymus the Blind (313-398) says that heretics are deceived in everything by anything. They object to the idea of holy living because all things brought into existence by this world’s Creator are sinful from the start. In contrast, any birth which comes from the God of the Final Covenant is not the same. They base this idea on the supposition that sinners and the righteous must have different Creators, but this notion rests on a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. The Bible does not say that whoever is born of God is sinless. Instead, that such persons will not sin as long as they walk on the path of holiness. If they do turn aside from that way, they sin. Indeed, those who do sin have departed from the Creator and the course provided by Him. The ability not to sin is guaranteed by the presence of God’s seed in us. This seed is His power and the spirit of adoption, which cannot sin.[2]

Severus of Antioch (459-512) comments on what the Apostle John says here about those born again who do not sin. He states that John did not say this with respect to the existence of sin in our lives, as if our nature was not susceptible to sin. Instead, he means that insofar as someone born of God retains the grace of their new birth, they cannot behave sinfully. And the reason for this is that God’s seed dwells in them. What is this seed of God which dwells in believers? What else but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by which we have been born again? This presence never leaves us.[3]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was asked if the fruit of the spirit the Apostle Paul enumerates in Galatians are, in fact, deeds? For them, it appears that the virtues listed by Paul were not fruit. Therefore, that which bears fruit should not itself be called fruit. But our actions bear fruit: for it is written: “For the fruit of good labors is glorious.”[4] The Apostle John tells us that Jesus said, “Even now, the people who harvest the crop are being rewarded. They are gathering crops for eternal life.”[5] Therefore, our positive responses to those around us are not to be called fruit.

Then someone quoted Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), who said, “the mind that loves eagerly is to be praised.” Since then, we speak of these three factors — ability, knowledge, and use. Use lies in the will, which handles those things contained in the memory and understanding, whether it refers them to anything further or rest satisfied with them as an end.[6] But our will should not rest in our actions for their sake. Therefore, our efforts should not be called fruit; furthermore, among the fruit of the reborn spirit, the Apostle identifies particular virtues, love, humility, faith, and self-control. Now, these virtues are not actions but habits; therefore, the fruit in Galatians are deeds.

On the contrary, says Aquinas, it is written: “By the fruit, the tree is known;”[7] that is to say, their product identifies them. Therefore, human actions are called fruit. Thus, the word “fruit” is transferred from the material to the spiritual world. Now fruit, among material things, is the product of a plant when it comes to fruition the fruit has a particular taste. This fruit has a twofold relation: first, to the tree that produces it, and second, to the person who gathers it. Accordingly, in spiritual matters, we may interpret the word “fruit” in two ways: first, the fruit of believers is what they produce; and secondly, Christians can collect and use this fruit.[8]

Speaking of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), he used verses nine through eighteen here as a text for his sermon about how a believer must deal with sin. So, when the Apostle John says that those born of God do not sin (after saying earlier, we have no sin), what can anyone do when caught between these two truths? If a person admits that they have sinned since becoming a child of God, they open themselves up to accusations of not being born again. But if they deny having done anything considered a sin, they might be charged with deceiving themselves.

When placed in this situation, says Augustine, what can a person confess or profess to satisfy the question, are you or are you not a true child of God? The answer is hard to find. Claiming to live a sinless life is full of peril as well as error. Who will believe such a person? If this is true, then they have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment? However, confessing that we have sinned despite being chosen by God as one of His elect is also risky and may ruin our reputation as faithful servants of the Almighty. Remember, the Apostle John is the one who laid his head on the Master’s chest. That would have been impossible had he not been born again of the Spirit.[9] So, it is not up to us to answer that question, but God alone. What we do know is that there is forgiveness of any sin committed by God’s children as long as they confess it and repent of it to receive forgiveness and go on living for the One who loved them and redeemed them.

Isho‘dad of Merv (circa 800-900 AD) states that the person who has once denied Satan and confessed God, and who has been born again and discarded all the oldness of Adam, is not guilty of sin because they are God’s seed. The teaching of God remains in them, for the Apostle John calls this teaching “seed.”[10] We must take this statement to imply that as long as the believer is following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, He will not lead them into temptation.[11] But once that connection is severed, then sin is a strong possibility.

In his writing about everything that proceeds from our corrupt human nature, John Calvin (1509-1564) addresses an individual’s free will and the false concept that a person can either obey or resist. But, instead, it affects us very deeply. We must, therefore, repudiate the oft-repeated sentiment of Chrysostom, “Whom He draws, He draws willingly,”[12] insinuating that the Lord only stretches out His hand and waits to see whether we will be pleased to take His aid. But, of course, we agree that they could incline to either side as humans. But since the Apostle John taught us by his example how miserable a thing free will is if God is not in us to do His will, what use then is the grace imparted to us in such short measure? No, by our ingratitude, we obscure and impair divine grace.   

People need to learn that God freely offers His favor, says Calvin, without exception, to all who ask for it. After all, it is the privilege of the chosen ones to be regenerated by God’s Spirit and placed under His guidance and government. Listen to Jesus’ words in the Apostle John’s Gospel, says Calvin, “For no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them to Me.”[13] Therefore, it is undeniable that the hearts of believers are so effectively governed from above that they follow with unswerving affection. That is why John says here in verse nine, “Whosoever is born of God does not sin; for His seed remains in them.” Thus, that in-between movement which the religious intellegencia imagines, a movement by which everyone is free to obey or to reject, is excluded by the doctrine of practical faithfulness.[14]


[1] The fact is, at some point around 1789, when being told that her French people had no bread, Marie-Antoinette (bride of France’s King Louis XVI) supposedly sniffed, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”— “Let them eat cake.” With that callous remark, the queen became a hated symbol of the decadent monarchy and fueled the revolution that would cause her to (literally) lose her head several years later.

[2] Didymus the Blind, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., p. 199

[3] Serverus of Antioch, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, p. 200

[4] Wisdom of Solomon 3:15

[5] John 4::36

[6] Augustine: De Trinitate Bk. 10; Ch. 11:17

[7] Matthew 12:33

[8] Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 2 – The First  Part of the Second Part, pp.760-761

[9] Augustine of Hippo (354-430) AD: Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Homily 5, pp. 966-967

[10] Isho’dad of Merv, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, p. 200

[11] Matthew 6:13

[12] Chrysostom, Father’s of the Church, Homilies on Romans,  Homily 16 on Romans 9:1, verese 13

[13] John 6:44

[14] John Calvin: Institutes, Bk. 2, Ch. 3, p. 321

About drbob76

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