WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LIII) 09/24/21

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.

Ronald R. Williams (1906-1970) says that what the Apostle John writes here may cause us to think that we must keep to ourselves with much self-restraint to maintain a holy, sanctified life. However, the Apostle John says that the person genuinely living right according to God’s Word spends most of their time selflessly giving and sharing in love. You have to read John 3:16 and then read 1 John 3:16 to appreciate this principle.[1]

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) comments that we can strive for victory by leaning on the Anointed One’s success while here on earth. Then we can enlist in the battle for living right, starting at forgiveness and the renewed power we received to do right, which the grace of God in the Anointed One brought about by faith in the believer’s soul. That means the struggle to live a holy life can only be won by those who, through grace, are in union with the Anointed One.[2]

Rudolf Schnackenburg’s (1914-2002) comments that this allows us to imagine these practical facts: We are not born knowing how to lie, cheat, steal, hate, be prejudiced, or be biased. It is something we acquire. The same is true of righteousness and sinfulness. These differentiating characteristics are apparent when discerning the children of God from the devil’s offspring. Another thing is to note that they are called the devil’s brood because the Scriptures never say, “born of the devil.” Therefore, they are devilish by nature. Since the Anointed One is the truth-teller and the devil a liar, it should be easy to tell who belongs to whom.[3]

There are many questions today about “the seed,” “fundamental beliefs,” “our new spiritual nature,” the “Holy Spirit,” and the “Word of God.” It is a combination of the three, which produces new life. Because these things are in the believer, they cannot sin habitually. Here then are the four distinctions of God’s children and the devil’s brood of vipers.

Those who do not practice righteousness are not of God. There is no in-between, no gray area. None are half in and half out. In contrast, God’s children are known by these spiritual factors. The Apostle John now reverts to the subject of love, which he discussed in chapter two.

Sakae Kubo, who received his PhD in New Testament and Early Christian literature from the University of Chicago, wrote that if we place “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in them, and they cannot sin because they are born of God,”[4] alongside, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus the righteous Anointed One,”[5] we would either have to admit that the first quote from verse nine in chapter three is contradicted by the second quote from verse one in Chapter two, or to understand the first line in the present tense of being a habit, in contrast to the aorist (ongoing) tense of the second line. Thus, “They cannot sin” is not understood absolutely, but in the sense of, “They cannot continue in a habitual life of sin.” However, some have questioned whether such an explanation is entirely satisfactory. To have a more precise distinction of tenses would require further guidance.[6]

John Stott (1921-2011) says that the Apostle John now proceeds to the second part of his elaboration of the moral test, and this time links righteousness with Christ’s past appearing. His argument for the indispensable necessity of holy living is now drawn, not from the expectation of the Lord’s second coming, when we shall see Him and become like Him, but from the purpose of his first coming, which was to remove sins and to destroy the works of the devil. John repeats the argument each time with a different emphasis.[7]

 Verses 4-6Verses 8-9
The introductory phrase:Everyone who sins (4)He who does what is sinful (8)
The theme:The nature of sin is lawlessness (4)The origin of sin is the devil (8)
The purpose of the Anointed One’s appearing:… He appeared soThe reason the Son of God was manifested
 that He might take away our sins (5) was to destroy the devil’s work (8)
The logical conclusion:No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning (6)No one who is born of God will continue to sin (9)

John Phillips (1927-2010) feels that the story of the prodigal son[8] is an excellent example of what the Apostle John is saying here. In the prodigal’s wildest days, his heart was far from his earthly and heavenly fathers. After the prodigal son returns, and his earthly father gave a banquet to commemorate his wayward son’s return while the angels in heaven rejoiced.[9] Then comes the elder brother and complains that his earthly father never gave him so much as a baby goat to celebrate with his friends.[10] That’s when his father admonished him by saying, “Son, you’ve always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.”[11] [12]

Philip W. Comfort (1950) argues that the main tension in the Christian’s life is dealing with sin. Various theological theories have been proposed, from the total eradication of corruption upon the new birth and sanctification on the one hand to the acceptance of evil as a permanent factor on the other. Comfort says that although believers are absolutely and forgiven of sin, the scars are still visible. The Anointed One died to deliver and redeem us from sin’s penalty; now He lives to save the believer from sin’s power.

When we become new creatures in the Anointed One, says Comfort, and have a unique divine principle implanted in us. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is constantly at work purifying and cleansing the old nature’s leftover pollution and contamination of sin that is offensive to the new spiritual nature. By doing so, the believer grows and matures more and more into the image of the Anointed One. It becomes impossible to love and serve God in purity according to God’s Word while we still wade in the cesspool of sin’s impurities.[13]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) sees verse ten as a transition from the previous section, in which John set out a proactive condition for living as God’s children by renouncing sin. That leads to the present passage, in which John describes the second condition as naturally optimistic through obedience. It all has to do with to whose family we belong. God’s family is renowned for living by the Word of God and doing His will even when it becomes uncomfortable. At the same time, the devil’s brood pays no attention to the Gospel and feels that being told what they cannot do is a form of divine bullying. So, they go their way instead of God’s way.[14]

Edward Malatesta (1932-1998) says that those who continue sinning are no longer God’s children. They have forgotten all about the Rock who saved them, the God who gave them birth. How can you be a child of God when you reject His only Son? Furthermore, no matter how much you may claim that you are in union with the Anointed One, the fact that you do not love your fellow believer is a sure sign you are one of Satan’s horde. Not only do we live our lives for God and His Son, but we live our lives for each other.[15]

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) states that the Apostle John is calling for sound thinking. Just like, you cannot be a citizen of any country unless you have a birth certificate showing you were born there. And you cannot get in or out of that country without that country’s passport. So likewise, you cannot claim to be born of God without showing any proof that you love your brothers and sisters more than you love yourself. As they say, this is not a gray area. It is Light or darkness. The children of God and the devil’s brood coexist here on earth; that’s why it is essential to know the difference between the two. So, John says it’s not just saying you love God that identifies you, but that you also love your fellow believers.[16]

I remember my father telling how he brought us back from Germany to the United States in 1952 aboard the ship USS America. The call when out for everyone to come on deck to have their passports and visas checked. When we arrived, there was a line completely around the boat. It looked like this was going to take a long time. But he heard over the loudspeaker, “All those with American Passports, come to the front of the line.” As we walked past hundreds of passengers, they looked at us with envy. When my father presented our passports, the immigration agent went over them and then stamped, “Approved for entry.” We were then able to go back to our cabin and wait for the ship to dock. That’s when American citizens were allowed to disembark first. My dad saw this as an illustration of those on Judgment Day, all wanting to enter heaven. But only those with heavenly passports can get in. And the visa they carry reads: “Has brotherly love. Approved for entry.”


[1] Williams, Ronald R., Letters of James and John, op. cit., p. 38

[2] Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., p. 260

[3] Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 176-177

[4] 1 John 3:9

[5] Ibid. 2:1

[6] Sakae, Kubo, Ethics in Higher Education, Globethics Library

[7] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., pp. 124-125

[8] Luke 15:25-32

[9] Ibid. 15:10

[10] Ibid. 15:29

[11] Ibid. 15:31

[12] Phillips, John, Exploring the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 103-104

[13] Comfort, Philip W., Cornerstone Biblical Commentary Series, op. cit., pp. 351-352

[14] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary pp. 179-181

[15] Malatesta, Edward, Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., pp. 259-251

[16] Boice, James Montgomery, Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 90

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s