By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXI) 04/27/23

5:18 We know that those who have been made God’s children do not continue to sin. The Son of God keeps them safe. The Evil One cannot hurt them.

For example, Thomas Scott (1747-1821) a man with a heartfelt friendship with hymn writer John Newton (1726-1807),[1] looks at the Apostle John’s words that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them because they are born of God.[2] So let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.[3] Thus, everything forming an essential part of Christianity is inseparably connected with being “born of God:” and it is evidently intended, that they all co-exist in the regenerated.

But, had John reversed these propositions, would he have said, “Those who don’t believe that Jesus is God’s Son, are not born of God?” Or “Individuals who do not survived living in a godless society are not born of God.” Perhaps, “People who do not live right are not born of God.” Maybe even, “Persons who commit sin are not born of God.” Even perhaps, “They who don’t love are not born of God.” Doubtless, he would. But would he have said, “Believers who have not been baptized are not born of God?” This is sufficient to expose the absurdity of baptism and regeneration, being considered the same thing, or inseparably connected.[4]

In his captivating teaching style, Jewish convert Augustus Neander (1789-1850) teaches that while the Apostle John demands Christian sympathy and love, even for members who’ve fallen short of God’s glory.[5] Nevertheless, John deems it necessary to avoid destroying the essential contradiction between Christian living and sinning and to summon Christians to continue fighting against sin. Why? Because we know that God’s children do not practice sinning, God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.

John deems it necessary to add this warning, lest some might be led, by the distinction he made among sins, to think too lightly of any sin, lest believers suppose they had done enough if they only avoided such outbreaking sins. Here again, John refers to the principle that all sin is the same. All transgression of the divine law proceeds from selfishness as sin. Therefore, in its governing principle, it is the same thing. It is only about the outward manifestation that a difference among sins can be made to distinguish “sin deadly to eternal life” from other sins.

To this end, John reiterates that the holy living stands in contradiction with all wrongdoing; and that one born of God and possessing divine life as opposed to all sin keeps themselves separate from all evil. Anyone who faithfully cherishes the godly life received, and watches over themselves, has nothing to fear from evil temptations. Instead, it has the power to withstand all Satan’s influences. There is nothing in such a one on which the devil can fix his hold. As Satan was compelled to retire from the Redeemer, finding no access to Him with His temptations, so will he be forced to leave unharmed those who stand in fellowship with the Redeemer.

Herein are two things: first, the duty of all such as have become partakers of the divine life, to guard against all sin whatever, without regard to differences; and secondly, the proof that such as have fallen into sins which are deadly to eternal life is not born of God. From this, it is evident that if they were born of God, they could only, by neglecting to watch over themselves, have again fallen prey to the power of evil, which they must otherwise have withstood.[6]

After spiritually analyzing the implications of the Apostle John’s conclusions at this point, Gottfried C. F. Lücke (1791-1855) says that the Apostle John shows in verse seventeen that every action and intention contrary to divine law, every infringement on God’s righteousness, is, in its essence, sin. However, there still exists a difference in the intensity and effect of corruption between nondeadly sin and sin deadly to eternal life. The faithful Christian can, according to John, not sin deadly to eternal life as long as they walk in the flesh.[7]

Therefore, John adds this consolation, “We (also) know that everyone born of God does not sin.[8] Those born of God (being ever intent on sanctifying themselves) keep themselves from doing so[9] and thus are unassailable to the evil one,[10] the prince of this world. Therefore, he maintains the cloud of darkness and death over his brood.”[11] [12]

Without using complicated language, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) comments that though a believer may stumble into sin and grieve God’s family, we should never cease to pray for them. We are never to feel that they have committed an unforgivable sin and thrown themselves beyond the reach of prayer. This passage, in its connection, is sufficient proof that a faithful Christian will never commit an unpardonable sin and, therefore, will never fall from grace.

The assertion here is that “whosoever is born of God does not sin” by keeping themselves away from temptation. It does not say that they do it by their strength but will put forth their best efforts to keep from sinning and, by Divine assistance, will be able to accomplish it.[13] The great enemy of all good is repelled in his assaults and kept from having believers falling into his snares.[14]

With impressive theological vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) notes that in verse eighteen, the Apostle John ends his discussion begun in verse fourteen. That discussion also was meant to establish the general thought which occupies his attention throughout this section – the view, namely, that through faith in Jesus as the Anointed One, God’s Son, the Christian has eternal life. John returns to this general thought and utters it in verses nineteen and twenty, in all its strength and with conviction. In both verses, the chief emphasis falls upon “we know.” Between verses eighteen and nineteen, there is no direct connection but verses nineteen and twenty, as is evident from the “and” must be taken together.[15]

Consistent with the Apostle John’s advice, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) says that in verse eighteen, the Apostle John describes the position of believers in brief, vigorous strokes. Although, as in verses sixteen and seventeen, John admitted that unrighteousness, and hence sin, still exist in Christians. Thus, John finds himself compelled to repeat, confirmingly, what he said about believers continuing to live in sin[16] as a truth known to Christians. Though the tendency to sin still exists in the life of the believer born of God, it is nevertheless foreign to them, opposed to their spiritual nature, and in the strength of their faith become progressively free from it.[17]

According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) way of thinking, the Apostle John’s “we know[18] no one who has become part of God’s family makes a practice of sinning, for the Anointed One, God’s Son, holds them securely. The devil cannot get his hands on them. John wanted to enforce four truths – we are God’s children, do not make sinning a habit, are secure in God, and the devil cannot make us sin.  These words preface matters of the believer’s joint experimental knowledge. John warns against abusing this in verses sixteen and seventeen as justifying self-security.[19]

With his lifework well-illustrating the biblical and reformation ideal of a pastor-theologian, Robert S. Candlish (1807-1873) theorizes that verse seventeen’s last clause, “there is sin that does not lead to eternal death,” may be read without the negative. He believes that there is sufficient authority for reading it that way. And as regards internal evidence, it seems easier to explain – and this is a good criterion – how, if not originally in the text, it might creep in, then, how, it could fall out? The insertion of it by copyists, perhaps first as a hypothetical marginal reading, can easily be explained by supposing it necessary to harmonize the statement in the seventeenth verse with verse sixteen to bring in the idea of the lawfulness of praying for life for them that sin not deadly to eternal life.

This seventeenth verse, however, points forward to verse eighteen, not backward. Do not imagine that in praying for a sinning spiritual brother or sister, you may overlook the possibility of their sin being deadly to eternal life. Do not pray for them as if you thought that God’s law might be relaxed in their case, and they, though sinning, deserve to die and continue to sin; they might not die. Beware even more for your sake than theirs. You are in danger of being led to tolerate in yourselves what you are inclined to downplay in a fellow believer. You may secretly hope there may be immunity for them, even though they continue sinning. Is there no risk of your being tempted to cherish a similar hope for yourself; and forget the great truth that “all unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin deadly to eternal life?”[20]

An ordained deacon in the Church of England who turned towards a clerical career under Evangelical influences, including his friendship with Favell Lee Mortimer,[21] which affected him deeply throughout life, Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892) said, “It must be remembered that the greatest saint may be tempted to the worst of sins. I do not say the temptation will prevail; God forbid; but that temptations may be addressed to him; and if the saintliest minds may be tempted, how much more are we open to the incursions of temptation!” Our blessed Lord, after the devil became frustrated in his endeavor to tempt Him, began to oppose, and afflict Him. There was no hope of prevailing against Him because the prince of this world found no guilt in Him. There was no inward sin on which to work by allurements or stimulants.

Not so with us. To the end of life, we carry a fallen nature, with its taints and proneness to evil. This is mortified and kept under in those that live a holy life, but still in some sort remains within. Till the end, the prince of this godless society has something to test us with; he addresses his flatteries and persuasions. How strange it seems to us to read of Abraham’s falsehood,[22] David’s awful and complex sin,[23] Peter’s denials,[24] and the contention between Paul and Barnabas![25]

How will we escape temptations and downfalls if such saints were tempted and overcome? It is true that, as people grow in grace, temptation loses much of its power over them. So, John says, “Whosoever is born of God does not sin; for His seed remains in them.[26]And again: “We know that whosoever is born of God does not sin, but those born of God keep themselves so that wicked one cannot touch them.”[27]

In another sermon, Manning states that the perfect saint is not sinless; this, since creation, has been the prerogative of one Divine being alone. It will be saints’ inheritance in bliss on earth, so long as they are in the flesh, the original sin is a mystery to them. In some, the urge for devotion, fasting, mortification, and prayers keeps them in perpetual watchfulness. God is wonderfully keeping them; their footsteps never slide. These are they of whom John says, “Whosoever is born of God does not sin; for His seed remains in them.[28] [29]

With an inquiring mind, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) sees that the Apostle John uses the continuous present tense, “sins not,” in the case of a sin committed by a believer not deadly to eternal life. It presupposes that the regenerate can and does sin. They do not live in the practice of sin as the unregenerate do. They do not, like the Nicolaitans, live in unrighteousness, and say it is not wrong. Unlike the regular sinner, they do not sin without repugnance or repentance, as if it were natural and agreeable to them. Instead, they watch and guard themselves. Unless they do this, they lose their regenerated character, which is incompatible with endless sinning. It will not allow the devil to get possession of their soul. Again, these are instances of the continuous present tense.[30]

In line with Apostle John’s conclusion, Henry Alford (1810-1871) finds that the Apostle John repeats what he said before about those born of God do not sin.[31] Therefore, there is no inconsistency with what he says here in verse eighteen. It expresses the enduring abidance of heavenly birth. It fits the characteristic of those who do not sin, calling attention to the historical fact of having been born of God. It also harmonizes with the fact that the wicked one cannot touch them because divine birth severed their connection with the evil prince of this world.

In addition, Alford objects to this and similar expositions and retains the reading “it keeps him,” that is, the Divine birth, adding, “it is this, and not the fact of their watchfulness, which preserves them from the touch of the wicked one.”[32] This puzzle can be easily solved by noting that we are in Him and He in us. Therefore, we cannot keep ourselves without His help, and He will not protect us if we don’t resist sin’s approach.[33]

As a faithful and zealous scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) says that the substance of verse eighteen may be termed the “believer’s safety.” As it is naturally divided into several particulars, we must attend to them in their order. First: He is born of God.[34] This is the new birth of which God’s Word speaks so abundantly, as the turning point of the Christian’s life and the commencement of all holiness, loveliness, and moral excellence in the human character.

Still, there is no pure and genuine love for God, no heavenly-mindedness in the human soul, no ennobling, and family relations to the great Father in heaven. All these have their roots and origin in the birth from above and can spring forth and flourish in the renewed soul alone. Hence, the frequency with which the Scripture speaks of the necessity of being born again, of receiving a new heart, a new name, a new life, and a new nature.

Instead, it contains the feeling of bitter sorrow for having neglected the Savior and served sin so long, and hence it is called repentance; it effectuates a total radical change in the entire conduct and character and therefore is called conversion; it brings us into a new world, a new life, new hopes, and aspirations after God, where there is growing conformity to the image of the Savior and is fitly called a new birth; it carries us over the boundaries of Satan’s dominions, and places us in the kingdom of divine grace and love, where the Good Shepherd leads us by the fountains of living waters, and may well be called a transformation.[35][36]

[1] Newton, John: Composer of “Amazing Grace

[2] 1 John 3:9

[3] Ibid. 4:7

[4] Scott, Thomas: Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 413

[5] Romans 3:23

[6] Neander, Augustus: The First Epistle of John, Practically Explained, op. cit., pp. 309-311

[7] Cf. 1 John 2:1

[8] Cf. Ibid. 3:9

[9] Cf. James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:22; see Wisdom of Solomon 10:5

[10] Cf. Wisdom of Solomon 18:20

[11] Cf. Colossians 1:15; Ephesians 6:12ff

[12] Lücke, Gottfried C. F., A Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 286

[13] Romans 5:20-21

[14] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, p. 4893

[15] Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, September 1895, p. 560

[16] 1 John 3:6-10

[17] Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical and Exegetical Handbook on the General Epistles, op. cit., p. 620

[18] 1 John 3:2, 5. 14. 15. 5:13, 18, 19, 20

[19] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., pp.730-731

[20] Candlish, Robert S., The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures op. cit., Lecture XLIII, p. 529

[21] A British Evangelical author of educational books for children

[22] Genesis 20:2

[23] Psalm 51:4

[24] Luke 22:54-62

[25] Acts of the Apostles 15:36-41

[26] 1 John 3:9

[27] Manning, Henry Edward: Sermons, Vol. 2, Sermon VII, Spiritual Presumption, p. 61

[28] See Romans 5:12, 14-17

[29] Ibid. Sermons, Vol. 2, Sermon XIX, The Longsuffering of the Anointed One, pp. 164-165

[30] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 281

[31] 1 John 3:9

[32] Mombert, Jacob Isidor: Lange’s Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., Vol. IX, p. 173

[33] Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 512

[34] 1 John 3:9; 1 Peter 1:23

[35] Colossians 1:13

[36] Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 345-347

About drbob76

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