WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XLVI) 09/15/21

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.

And in another work, John Wesley (1703-1791), writing on the life and death of theologian Thomas Halliburton, a Scottish reformation preacher, remarks that this great servant of God at sometimes fell back from the glorious liberty he received into the spirit of fear, sin, and bondage. But why did this happen? Because the hand of the Lord was limited? Certainly not! So, what did happen? Halliburton failed to stay in close union with the Anointed One. It means he did not hold on to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind, thus grieving the Holy Spirit that sealed his salvation.

Undoubtedly, some inattentive and unfaithful believers depart from the Anointed One’s guidance, says Wesley, leaving them weak and susceptible to temptation. But it may be said, “The Gospel covenant does not promise entire freedom from sin.” What do you mean by the word “sin?” Those numberless weaknesses and bad decisions are sometimes called “sins of unhealthy living?” But if you mean, “It does not promise entire freedom from sin or from committing sin,” this is by no means accurate unless the Scriptures are misleading. In verse nine, the Apostle John clearly states, “Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning.” That is, unless they are no longer motivated by the Spirit of adoption, not finally, but for a while. It’s what happened to this child of God, Halliburton, “because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning because they have been born of God.”[1] He cannot sin so long as “God’s Son, holds them securely, and the devil cannot get his hands on them.”[2]

Samuel E. Pierce (1746-1829) says that to understand what the Apostle John means by saying that anyone born of God does not sin, we must realize that those born of God do not sin as wicked people do. Furthermore, the forgiveness given to a regenerated person[3] is different from that given to an unregenerate person.[4] Regenerate individuals do not allow themselves to sin. It is accidentally and a surprise if they stumble into it: not out of purpose or determination. Their constant motivation and settled minds do not allow them to sin. When a born-again person sins, however, it is not with their full approval. They do not yield to it willingly. When it happens, they wish it were not so and would have gladly avoided it. What took place? It resulted from a conflict between their reborn spirit and their sinful tendencies. It brings them no joy nor delight. Instead, they grieve over their failure to remain faithful to God’s Word and Will. They end up complaining about it, mourning over it, and repenting of it. One thing is for sure, a true child of God does not continue in it. In fact, they turn away from it as soon as possible.[5]

An 18th-century British preacher named John Seymour (circa 1750-1840) once talked about those in his congregation who owned businesses. Suppose I went to your shop and asked you the price of a particular item. You would say it costs such and such. But, then, if I offer you one-half or two-thirds of what you have said is the price. You’d say, “I cannot take it.” Now, why can’t you take what I would pay you? It is not the lack of freedom in your will to decide on accepting my proposal, nor is it any missing authority to accept my offer. You have both. And yet, you repeat your former statement, “I cannot take it,” and you are telling the truth. You cannot take it because it would be below your cost to produce it. That would lead to bankruptcy and reduce you and your family to a lower standard of living. You cannot take it and be consistent with the market price and your business practices. The same is true of those who are born of God. They cannot afford to sin and remain in harmony with God. It would be outright rebellion against God and bring embarrassment, if not total ruin, upon their soul.[6]

William Lincoln (1788-1844) takes issue with those who say that the Apostle John says that those born of God are unable to become habitual sinners. I believe, says Lincoln, that the meaning seems apparent on the surface. The idea is that if you have the divine nature in you, it is just the same as the Anointed One’s nature, and you cannot sin. Let’s first apply it to the Anointed One Himself. You will admit that the Anointed One was born to Mary by the Spirit of God. Therefore, as God’s Son, He could not sin. It is not merely that He did not sin, but He could not sin.

Now, there is a doctrine drawn from the theology of the Irvingite’s[7] that says, even though the Anointed One did not sin, He could have sinned if He wanted to. I have often thought how Irving flatly contradicted the Scripture that says He “could not” instead of “would not.” It is a fact that you cannot get a ray of light tainted by shining it in a pond of polluted water. The light rays are so dissimilar to the stagnant water in the pond that you could not, however hard you may try, get the light as dirty as the water in the pond. So, likewise, it is impossible to contaminate the nature of God with the filthy nature of sin. So, as the Anointed One had the very divine essence of God. Yes, He was God’s Son, co-equal with the Father, He not only did not sin, but He could not sin. But, of course, we have our holy and unholy natures, and He had only one.[8]

Lincoln continues by saying that we know that there is something in us that is not born of God; of course, it not only sins but cannot do anything else but sin. We can keep it to a minimum, deaden its effect and bury it, for it cannot be mended. As we find out every day, our sinful nature remains bad until we are ultimately delivered at the resurrection. But our divine nature cannot possibly have any collaboration with sin.[9]

So let us take what Lincoln says and what Irving said and put them together. In other words, the nature of the Anointed One in us cannot sin, but the sinful tendencies in the flesh we inherited from Adam can be swayed by temptation to sin. Therefore, if you sin, it is not the Spirit of the Anointed One in you that is sinning; it is your flesh. So, that’s why John said if our flesh sins, and we confess that sin, then God is more than willing to cleanse us of that sin so that the Anointed One’s nature in us can live in freedom without bondage. That’s why the Apostle John urges us to keep ourselves clean and pure[10] so that we are ready when He calls our name in the resurrection. We prefer not to be like the five foolish virgins who ran out of oil for their lamps at the most inconvenient time.[11]

Philip Schaff (1819-1893) writes about the rise and progress of monasticism.[12] He talks about a particular opponent named Jovinian who was against asceticism (self-discipline practiced by monks and nuns in monasteries) in the Roman Catholic Church. He belonged to a group known as being liberal, almost Protestant in their concept of Christian morality, which set itself against the worship of Mary and the saints. However, this form of opposition against living in monasteries existed primarily in isolated cases and was more negative than positive in its character. It lacked the spirit of wisdom and moderation and almost entirely disappeared in the fifth century, only to be revived long after, in a more mature and comprehensive form, when monasticism had fulfilled its mission for the world. Some even compared Jovinian to Martin Luther.

According to Schaff, a priest, confessor, and theologian named Jerome (342-420 AD) had already pointed out four doctrines in Roman Catholic theology: (1) Virgins, widows, and married persons, baptized into the Anointed one, stand equal in Him, with other things in their conduct also being equal. (2) Those, who are full of faith born again by baptism, cannot be overcome by the devil. (3) There is no difference between abstaining from food and enjoying it with thanksgiving. (4) All, who keep the baptismal covenant, will receive an equal reward in heaven.

It was point two on which Jerome focused. It has an apparent affinity with the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverantia sanctorum.[13] However, he did not refer to God’s eternal and unchangeable counsel, but simply based on what the Apostle John taught[14] and connected it with his concept of opposite moral states. With complete confidence, Jerome limits the possibility of those born again in baptism ever falling back into sin. He also distinguishes between mere water baptism and the baptism of the Spirit, which involves a distinction between the actual and the ideal church.[15]


[1] 1 John 3:9

[2] Works of John Wesley: Vol. 14, List of Works Revised and Abridged from Various Authors, p. 314

[3] John 3:16

[4] 1 John 1:9

[5] Pierce, S. E., An Exposition of the First Epistle General of John, op. cit., Vol. 1, pp. 388-389

[6] Seymour, John: The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. 22, First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 248

[7] The Irvingite’s were a religious sect named after Edward Irving (1792-1834), a deposed Presbyterian minister. The sect arose from certain extraordinary “manifestations of the spirit” — tongues, prophecies, healings, even raising of the dead — which were said to have taken place during Irving’s ministry in London, after his removal.

[8] 1 Peter 1:15-16

[9] Lincoln, William: Lectures on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 92-94

[10] See 1 John 3:3

[11] Matthew 25:8-13

[12] Monasticism is an institutionalized religious practice or movement whose celibate members attempt to live by a rule that requires good works that go beyond those of either the laity or the ordinary spiritual leaders of their religions.

[13] Perseverantia sanctorum (perseverance of the saints), highlighting the New Testament teaching on election, justification, and union with the Anointed One that will make God’s irresistible grace will ensure every genuine believer’s eternal security.

[14] See 1 John 3:9; 5:18

[15] Schaff, Philip: History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, Ch. 4, pp. 187-189

About drbob76

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