WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XLV) 09/14/21

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.

Calvin also mentions how the alleged arguments supporting free will are disproven. For example, he says, we are often commanded to get rid of all our impurities, although the Spirit claims this as His ministry. In fact, what belongs to God, He allows us to have. In the Apostle John’s words, “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely.”[1] The advocates of free will emphasize that we are maintained partly by the power of God and partly by our efforts. But, states John, it begins in heaven. That’s why the Anointed One prayed to His Father, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.”[2] Thereby we know that believers, in their warfare against Satan, owe their victory to the strong arm of God. Accordingly, after saying, “You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth,” Apostle Peter immediately adds by way of correction, “through the Spirit.”[3] As a matter of fact, the ineffectiveness of human strength in our human spirit’s contest with sinful tendencies is shown by John here in verse nine.[4]

It may be the case with some to dismiss all that Calvin says here about God being in complete control of our being chosen for salvation because of his stance on predestination and against free will. But, in reality, it pertains to the end of our journey with the Anointed One, not the beginning. No one can claim they redeemed themselves from sin’s bondage. It took God sending His Holy Spirit to call us to repentance by convicting us of our sins and our lost and hopeless condition. Therefore, God doesn’t turn it over to us to maintain that new creation, but, as Jesus said, stay in Me, and I will help you make it through to final salvation. In that light, everything the Reformer said is true and amen.

William Perkins (1558-1602), an influential English cleric and Cambridge theologian, examined the doctrine of Predestination. He was a firm proponent of Reformed theology, particularly that God chose who would be saved before the beginning of the world, [5] as promoted by Theodore Beza and John Calvin. With this in mind, there arose a belief that God voluntarily permits sins to those predestined because nothing is done without God’s permission. They based this on what John says here in verse nine. However, putting that concept beside what John said about believers sinning calls it into question.

Nevertheless, Dutch theologian Jakob Arminius (1560-1609) answers that the Apostle John says in verse nine that only those referred to are called according to the divine purpose and regenerated according to the decree of the divine predestination. Suppose you say that all born of God cannot sin because God’s seed remains in them. In that case, the word “remain” signifies habitation, but not a permanent one. So long as God’s source of truth and life is in a person, they do not sin to the point of dying spiritually. Still, by their fault and negligence, Adam and Eve removed the seed from their heart and lost their first creation in the image of God. So, it is with those of the second creation that may be lost.[6]

In verse nine, John Flavel (1627-1691) notes that this life with which regenerate believers are made alive is everlasting. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”[7]  This principle of life is the seed of God, and that remains in the soul forever. It is not transient, but a fixed, permanent focus, which abides in the soul forever. A person may lose their gifts, but grace remains; the soul may and must be detached from the body, but grace cannot be separated from the soul: when all else forsakes us, this will not leave us. Therefore, this principle implanted by the Spirit is vastly different, both from the extraordinary gift of prophecy wherein the Spirit was sometimes said to come upon people under the First Covenant[8] and from the spiritual effects He sometimes produces in the Final Covenant.[9] It is one thing for the Spirit to visit a person for momentary influence and assistance, and another thing to dwell in a person as in His temple.[10]

William Burkitt (1662-1703) says this is what we should learn: Although sinful tendencies remain in those born of God, those born of God do not stay in sin.  That means, either being in a sinful state or a sinful lifestyle, God’s Word and Spirit, by which they were regenerated, still dwells in them. And, so far as they are under their ruling power and governing influences, they cannot sin, much less willfully live in sin.[11] Thus, in these views of great Reformation theologians, we can see how the argument concerning how “once saved always saved” and “saved only by remaining in the true vine of our free will” was such a hot topic.

John Gill (1697-1771) makes a critical point in one breath. “Blessed are those who are born of God in a figurative and spiritual sense; who are regenerated, or born from above; who are made spiritually alive by the grace of God, and have the Anointed One formed in them; who are made partakers of the divine nature, and new creatures in the Anointed One; whose spiritual birth is not owed to mankind, nor to the power and will of other people, but to the grace of God; and give credit to the Father, who of His will and abundant mercy gives souls a rebirth to a lively hope, and saves them by washing them with the regenerating blood of the Lamb; and to the Anointed One, who makes spiritually alive whom He chooses, who implants His grace in the soul, and stamps His image on their heart, and by whose resurrection from the dead humankind can be raised to new life; and chiefly, to the Spirit of God, who is the author of regeneration, and sanctification to those made spiritually alive through Him, and live for God and in union with the Anointed One, and breathe in divine and spiritual things, by a holy sense of discernment given to them.”[12]

According to Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), writing about grace’s efficiency says it was necessary because an ungodly person has none of that principle that a godly person possesses, as is evident here in verse nine. The natural importance of such a figure of speech shows that the germination of a seed is meant. It may be as small as a grain of mustard. Yet, such a tiny seed may be buried and hid when it is planted in the earth. At first, it may seem to be dead, as such sources often do, till quickened by the sun and rain. But in any degree, such a principle in the seed is called on by nature to perform. And it is further evident that this seed, or this inward spiritual principle, is peculiar to the saints; for they that have that seed, cannot sin; therefore, they who sin do not have such a dynamic force.[13]

In his sermon, using verse nine, on the great privilege of those that are born again of God, John Wesley (1703-1791) notes that some believe that being born again and justification are the same thing. To them, the new birth and justification are only different expressions of the same action. To this, Wesley said, it is inevitable, on the one hand, that whoever is justified is also born of God. Thus, we can also state that whoever is born of God is also justified; yes, God gives both of these gifts to every believer at the exact moment. The process cannot be reversed, since the first is completed in heaven and the second is done on earth.

Furthermore, says Wesley, you cannot separate them by time. Justification allows the change to occur, and the new birth is the change that takes place. As the Apostle John said, it involves a total break from sin and sinning. As an example, the instant a child is conceived in the womb, it is sustained by water. But the moment it is birthed, it is kept alive by air. No child continues ingesting water as its only source of oxygen. In fact, when a person is submerged back into the water, unless they can find air, they will drown. The same is true of a born-again child of God. Like the womb of the woman’s body, the womb of sin becomes a forbidden place to a growing new believer.[14]

In one of his letters to a Miss Hardy on Wednesday, April 5, 1758, John Wesley (1703-1791) begins by saying that he writes with great reluctance because he dislikes disputing with someone. It seems that Miss Hardy has been perplexed by the doctrine of complete sanctification. But, says Wesley, I doubt whether this perfection can be proven by what Jesus said: “How can a student know more than his teacher? But if he works hard, he may learn as much.”[15] I never attempted to prove it, but from John says here in verse nine, (which belongs to all the children of God); I still think it is clearly described in those words, “As He is, so are we in this world.” And yet, it does not now appear “what we will be,” when this vile body is “fashioned like His glorious body;” when we will see Him, not through a dark window pane, but face to face, and transformed into His likeness.


[1] 1 John 5:18

[2] John 17:15

[3] The words “through the Spirit” are not found in the best Greek manuscripts, yet, it is an appropriate remark made in the margin by the copiest. (See Exposition of verse 22 in the Pulpit Commentary).

[4] John Calvin: Institutes, Bk. 2, Ch. 5, p. 349

[5] These were advocated by John Calvin and Theodore Beza

[6] The Works of Jacobus Arminius: Vol. 3, An Examination of the Treatise of William Perkins, Part 2, p. 439

[7] See 1 John 5:11

[8] 1 Samuel 10:6, 10

[9] Hebrews 6:4; John 5:35

[10] John Flavel: The Method of Grace, pp. 92-93

[11] William Burkitt: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 768

[12] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, op. cit., (Kindle Location 340873)

[13] Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 6, Ch. 4, Miscellaneous Observations on Important Theological Subjects, p. 347

[14] Works of John Wesley: Vol. 5, Sermons on Several Occasions, Sermon 19, pp. 291-293

[15] Luke 6:40

About drbob76

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