WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LII) 09/23/21

3:10 So now we can tell who is a child of God and who belongs to Satan. Whoever lives a sinful life and doesn’t love their brother or sister shows that they are not part of God’s family.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) agrees that we are the object of God’s agape-love, for the Anointed One died for us. The gift of the Anointed One to be sacrificed on our behalf is everywhere in Scripture represented as the highest possible or conceivable proof of God’s love for sinners.[1] Therefore, the objection that this Church doctrine means the death of the Anointed One resulted in procuring the love of an unloving God is without foundation or even its shadow.[2]

William Alexander (1824-1911) says that once more, the Apostle John’s Christianity proves to be more than a humanitarian sentiment to encourage cultivation yet is deeply pervaded by a sense of the vital connection of practical human love with God’s agape-love. So, it was the case for most liberal thinkers until they came to the words – “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love our fellow Christians.” They immediately closed the book, pronouncing that this verse was likely added to disturb the family of God’s peace of mind. Still, John puts humanitarianism in its rightful place as a result of something higher. “We have this commandment from Him, that they who love God love their brother and sister also.” It is almost as if John said, “do not sever the law of social life from the law of supernatural life; do not separate the human fraternity from Divine Fatherhood.”[3]

Brooke Westcott (1825-1901) sees the Apostle John sharply dividing the world into two spiritual classes – the Upper Class and the Lower-Class. The Upper-Class walks in the Light of truth, while the Lower Class wanders around in the darkness of ignorance. But just as important, there is no twilight Middle Class. No one can live with one foot in the Light and the other foot in the darkness. Therefore, one class is justified for everlasting union with God; the other is condemned to eternal separation. This way, all mankind can see what they really are.[4] For that which God kept secret will be revealed before the world’s eyes.[5] [6]

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) chose verses one through ten here in chapter three for exposition. He says when any chapter or verse in Scripture begins with “Behold!” you may read some with a glance if you like, but when you see “Behold,” you must stop there. Place a marker to remind you there is something highly worthy of attention buried beneath these words. So, not only does the Apostle John tell us to behold the Father’s love, but the “manner” in which He expressed that love.

So, says Spurgeon, consider who we were, and who we are now, and what we feel ourselves to be, especially after the power of divine grace transformed us. That is why His beloved are called “the children of God.” Spurgeon heard that when a convert in India was translating this verse, he stopped and said, “No; it cannot be; let it be written ‘Subjects,’ not ‘Sons,’ for it is impossible we should be called ‘the sons of God.’” What a lofty relationship, with extraordinary privileges and special rights, a son enjoys with his father, says Spurgeon! Oh, what obedience the son owes to his father, and what love the father feels towards the son! But all that, and more than that, we now possess through the Anointed One. “Behold!” you angels! Stop, you seraphs! Here is a thing more incredible than heaven, with its walls of jasper. Behold, universe! Open your eyes, O world! When you see the Church, you see God’s family here on earth.[7]

James J. Lias (1834-1923) comments that in so far as we possess the will to become what we will be, we are renewing day by day our covenant with God, with the attitude of self-surrender. It involves our union with the Great Head of the Church regarding what we are hoping for and daily desiring to become. It is what is meant by “justification” in Pauline logic. In this sense, John can say, in agreement with the facts, “We have passed from being morally dead to being spiritually alive.[8]

Lias goes on to say that the Apostle John wrestled with these issues that continually faced believers of being between the Light of truth and the darkness of ignorance. Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul frequently had the same struggle.[9] But, of course, each point of view has its advantages. For example, Paul’s case displays God’s mercy with humanity, which is necessary for dealing with souls. But John’s view has this advantage: it highlights the object at which the Anointed One’s Gospel aims. That object is nothing less than the Spirit’s endeavor to disentangle each soul from the trap of evil habits into the condition of likeness to the Anointed One in His sinlessness, into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”[10]

George G. Findlay (1849-1919) comments on how simple the Apostle John’s views are of life! For him, the complexities of human nature, the baffling mixtures, and contradictions of character scarcely exist. When the ultimate analysis is reached, people will be separated into two classes and no more – the sheep and the goats – at the judgment seat of the Anointed One.[11] We are the subjects of two warring kingdoms, the offspring of two opposing ancestors; no third category exists. The undecided must and will decide. The soul ends up either in heaven or hell. Right or wrong, love or hate, God or Satan, eternal life or death – these are the alternatives that John never ceases to press upon us. Through the whole Epistle, the duel goes on between these master-powers; at each turn, the Light of God’s Love and the night of Satanic hate confront each other; one chases the other from verse to verse of this paragraph.[12]

C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) explains that to be born of God means to belong to God. It also implies being in union with God, having His Word in us to do what’s right according to His will. All these stands on the one side of a dividing line: there is no alternative. If you are not living right, then you are living wrong. When you don’t belong to God, you are the devil’s property. Unless you act like a child of God, but as an offspring of the devil, you cannot claim to be part of God’s family and ignore the Gospel. It contradicts your claim to be in union with Him. The problem is that while you acknowledge your sin yet, you consciously continue sinning. The Apostle John establishes one fundament point: When we face the facts of personal experience, our pattern in life must complement the design given to us by Jesus the Anointed One. The actual and the ideal way of living for God must coincide. However, while we contemplate this perfect sanctified life, it is best to understand the basis for the truth upon which our actual life is in union with God.[13]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) says that in this discourse by the Apostle John on brotherly love, he compares the children of God with the devil’s brood. It is not very complicated, says Bultmann, if you do not live right, that is, according to God’s Word, you are not in union with Him. But John does not stop there; he goes on to say that if you say you love God but do not love your fellow believer, God does not recognize you as one of His children.[14]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) points out that regenerated believers are thereby children of God. Therefore, since degenerated sinners are not children of God, they must be the devil’s offspring. But to make sure his readers understand, the Apostle John offers a practical test to distinguish one group from the other. First, those who do not live right are not children of God. But for John, the words “living right” is too vague, so he follows it up with this: “If you do not love your fellow believers, then God has nothing to do with you.”[15]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) says that verse ten is a second part of the test in verse seven – living right – then equates this with loving our fellow believers, which becomes the theme of the next passage.[16]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) states that the Final Covenant never calls on us to do anything without first reminding us of who we are. Here is its unchangeable method: Doctrine equals practicing one’s spiritual position to achieve a practical posture. Thus, we have Doctrinal Theology (Romans) and Practical Theology (Galatians). That is what the Apostle John is doing here. In other words, he does not ask people to love one another before he reminds them of the fact that they are God’s children. It’s John’s way of saying, “If you claim to be this, but you act like that, your claim is logically incorrect.” It’s the same as, “You claim you’re telling the truth when all along you know you are lying!”[17]


[1] John 3:16; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10

[2] Charles Hodge: Commentary on Romans, op. cit., p. 211

[3] Robertson, William, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Matthew 12:16; Acts of the Apostles 7:13; 1 Corinthians 11:19

[5] Mark 4:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10ff

[6] Westcott, Brooke: Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 108

[7] The Spurgeon Sermon Collection: Vol. 1, Sermon 62E, p. 316

[8] Lias, James J., The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., p. 242

[9] Romans 7:7-24

[10] Ibid. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 242-243

[11] Matthew 25:31-46

[12] Findlay, G. G. (1909). Fellowship in the life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 273-274

[13] Dodd, C. H., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 81

[14] Bultmann, Rudolf, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 53-54

[15] Lewis, Greville P., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 82

[16] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., p. 260

[17] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Life in Christ, op. cit., p. 336

About drbob76

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