By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXII) 04/28/23

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.

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 root 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, a new nature.

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.[1] [2]

With the zeal of a scriptural text examiner, William E. Jelf (1811-1875) states that the conclusion of the Apostle John’s epistle now commences, marked by “know” in verses eighteen, nineteen, and twenty. This idea contradicts what goes before: a Christian may sin and yet not wholly lose their spiritual life. To evade this difficulty, some supply those born of God do not sin or interpret it as habitual sin, but both are arbitrary and unsatisfactory. If a person sins, it is contrary to their regenerate nature. There is something in this, but it is not exact enough. The proper solution is found by observing that the perfect “having been born” signifies the state of regeneration and equals “born of God.” 

This force of the perfect tense is brought out strongly by its contrast with “having been born” in the next verse. The meaning of it is not only that every sin is a violation of the perfect spiritual life of the Christian but also that it cannot occur without that inner spiritual life and union with God having to some degree, failed; there must have been a falling away from grace through harboring some sinful thought or desire before the Christian can sin outwardly. And this illustrates the features of sin as indicating and aggravating this internal defection of life.

In other words, the Christian must have in some way or other grieved the Spirit of Holiness and thus undid resigned so much of their spiritual life and powers. However, as long as this life and these powers remain unimpaired by sinful wishes, as long as the Christian uses the strength given, so long and so far, they are kept from sin. And this interpretation is in perfect harmony with all the phenomena of spiritual life as we find them in Scripture.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to overlook the passive force of the participle “being born” as a strong expression of past time contrasted with the form “having been born,” expressing a state continuing from the past into the present, “he who has been born of God.” And hence we perceive the difference between what is said of “having been born” and “being born” of those who have been born again and whose birth of God is in a constant state.[3]

After observing the Apostle John’s attention to detail, John Stock (1817-1884) indicates that there is no sight under heaven so grand and so great as that of a child of God keeping Satan at arm’s length, and making ineffectual all his dire assaults; and who is on the way, with heartfelt gratitude, to exclaim, “I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course6.”[4] God is not sought in vain. Omnipotence must prevail. The hosts of hell, banded in one, are as a feeble bubble before God, who triumphs over His people’s foes – giving them the victory – and rejoices as He beholds the repeated conquests of His servants.

God does not look on life’s battlefield without concern but hastens to support each and all of them that reverence Him; whose eyes run everywhere throughout the whole earth, to show Him is strong on behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him1; and saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness;” holds out to view the crown of righteousness3; the crown of glory that does not fade away – even the crown of life5; and affirms, “To him that overcomes I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne6.”[5]

With an inquiring spiritual mind, Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1819-1893) points out that verses eighteen to twenty form a conclusion to the preceding portion of the Apostle John’s first epistle. With a triple “know,” John summarizes three truths he explained in his letter. The first is that everyone born of God does not go on sinning because they are watchful and guard themselves so that Satan cannot touch them. Second, John unfolds its general substance in the first section.[6] The third section is its foundation for kinship with God and regeneration and the requirement for watchfulness.[7]

It respects security against unrighteousness in the second section and the third.[8] The second truth, that we are of God, while a godless society yields to the evil one, had been prepared for in the first section and then formed the foundation of the second section and the second part of the third section.[9] The third that the Anointed One is come, and has given us an understanding of the truth which John abundantly unfolds in the fourth and fifth sections. Thus, we see that John does not recapitulate the five main divisions by three main aspects and points of his teaching, which permeated the various sections of his Epistle ‒ namely, our obligation and prerogative of holiness, our opposition to a godless society, and our relationship to the Person of the Anointed One.[10]

After contemplating the Apostle John’s train of thought, William Kelly (1822-1888) sees John’s words in verse eighteen as part of the divine conscious knowledge for every individual, which is of immediate and deep concern for a Christian’s heart. It serves as an intellectual statement, and no more, no matter how one’s faith, may accept and apply it. There is a slight difference in the expression “whosoever is born of God does not sin, but he that is begotten of God keeps himself” (KJV); “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe” (NIV) though they belong to the same person, the Christian.

The first is the continued effect of being born again. Second, there is no question about it continuing. If sin was a small matter to Gnostic eyes, ignored by them or accepted as an unpleasant necessity, it is a grave thing to God’s children as it is to God. And it was similar to a word of comfort and one of caution that a person born of God does not sin, and the wicked one does not touch them. God’s Word is living and energetic, unlike every other word, and the Holy Spirit abides in each Christian to give power, communion, life, service, and worship to fill up the life below.[11]

Familiar with the Apostle John’s writing style, William B. Pope (1822-1903) is sure that whoever is born of God does not continue in sin and stays away from the evil one’s influence. However, the elder apostle admitted that the children of the Divine birth might sin, both deadly to eternal life and not deadly to eternal life. Then John reminds his readers of what was established earlier, that the regenerate life is inconsistent with both kinds. The characteristic and privilege of a child of God are to live without violating His law. Nevertheless, while all unrighteousness is sin, there is no death sin in the regenerated life. This is a repetition of what was said in chapter three, but John never repeats himself without some change in his thought.

Here’s a controversial statement: Not only those born of God do not sin, but those who backslide don’t sin. Again, as is his custom, John gives a specific reason for the assertion. The act of regeneration severed the Christian from Satan’s empire; and it is their privilege to stay watchful and dependent on the Keeper of their soul, from the approach of the tempter; not his approach as a tempter, but make sure that such an assault will not hurt their salvation.  It is wrong to limit this great saying by inserting “sin willfully” or “deadly to eternal life sin” or “sin habitually.” It must stand as the declaration of a privilege which is an attainable ideal. But living without that which God calls sin, John does not explain. One can only say, “He has nothing in me.”

However, sinful tendencies are still in those born of God. Why is that we might ask? While there are many answers, one of them would certainly be this: without those evil inclinations there would be no need for sanctification, and the believer would have no reason to grow stronger through resistance, proving their faithfulness to the One who saved them. So John’s warning is that they do exist, and if we are not careful, they may conceive and bring forth sin; not, however, if Satan is not involved. And the passions and lust in us will die if it has no place in our hearts and minds. This we know to be the privilege of the Christian estate, for the apostle established it in the middle of the Epistle.[12]We know” is not without protest against all future doubt; it is like one of the “faithful sayings” with which the Apostle Paul sealed his final doctrine.

To understand “the one is born of God” of the only begotten who keeps the saint is contrary to the analogy of Final Covenant’s language, and to suppose that the principle of regeneration protects them introduces a certain harshness without removing any difficulty. There is indeed no difficulty to the expositor who remembers that John never disconnects the Divine efficiency in humankind from their cooperation.[13] Therefore, I take Pope’s explanation as “theoretical” rather than “practical.”[14]

With precise spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911) takes verse eighteen as a statement of what we are: “We know 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.” By using the plural pronoun “we,” John binds his spirit and experience with that of his readers.

There is also the matter of how the believer is kept out of the hands of the evil one. The KJV reads: “He that is born of God keeps himself, and that wicked one cannot touch him.” But the NLT renders it: “God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.” It is also in line with Jesus’ prayer to the Father, “I have given them Your teaching. And a godless society has hated them because they don’t belong to a godless society, just as I don’t belong to a godless society. I am not asking You to take them out of a godless society. But I am asking that You keep them safe from the Evil One.”[15] [16]

With holiness doctrine expertise, Daniel Steele (1824-1914) makes the point that the expression “Son of God” is in the aorist participle “begotten.” If John had a regenerated man in mind, he would have used the perfect tense, as in the first clause in verse eighteen.[17] So also, the KJV, following an uncritical Greek manuscript, leaves every newborn Christian to “keep himself.” But the best critical manuscripts, as in Westcott and Hort’s text, reads, “supply him with a keeper and protector” – not a guardian angel, but the only begotten Son of God. Hence, he does not depend on his resources in his warfare against the active and wily “evil one.” So, God’s (only) begotten (Son) keeps him, not within a prison, but with watchful regard from without, not in custody, but freedom.

When it comes to the phrase “Touch him not,” (KJV) for the soul perfectly trusting in the power of God’s Son, there is no inward point of contact for the evil one to touch. It is “safe[18] because the prince of this world has nothing in them. The perfectly trusting soul becomes the entirely sanctified soul. The principle of evil is not within but without. The doctrine of final perseverance cannot be built on this passage. Faith may lapse, and the person may wander from their divine keeper.

Indeed, “We cannot be protected against ourselves in spite of ourselves,” while we are free agents on probation. Suppose a person falls at any stage in their spiritual life. In that case, it is not the fault of divine grace, nor does it come from the irresistible power of adversaries, but from a relaxed hold on the omnipotent guardian to whom they are clinging.[19]

After sufficient examination, Brooke Wescott (1825-1901) feels that a fellow Christian’s mediation power to overcome sin’s consequences might encourage a certain indifference to immorality. Therefore, the Apostle John reaffirms the elements of Christian knowledge. From this view, the first truth of which the Christian is assured is that despite the abnormal presence of sin even among the brethren, a child of God does not sin. They have a watchful Protector stronger than their adversary.

We found that John uses this appeal to absolute knowledge in two forms: “we know” and “you know.” “We know” is found fourteen times in this epistle.[20]You know” occurs only twice.[21] In contrast with these appeals to fundamental knowledge, John elsewhere appeals to the knowledge brought by experience. The Apostle Paul uses the same form frequently.[22] [23]

Considered a monarch in the pulpit, Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) states that as Christians, by their experience, “Know that whosoever is born of God does not sin, they know that they are of God, and we know that God’s Son arrived.” Now, that knowledge John has in mind is not merely an intellectual conviction but the outcome of life and the broad stamp of experience. Yet the average Christian who reads this text, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them,” shrugs their shoulders and says, “Well! Perhaps I do not understand it, but so far as I do, it seems to contradict life’s experiences.

Such words drive some believers and parallel ones in other places,[24] to a presumptuous over-confidence, some of us to equally unscriptural confusion, and a great many laying John’s triumphant certainty up upon the shelf with other unintelligible things where it becomes covered with dust.[25] But we need not be among them. God’s Word provides all the answers if we just take the time to study it.

As a commentator and translator of many German religious works, Jacob Isidor Mombert (1829-1913) illustrates that sin occurs and approaches. Still, believers withstand the assault, guarding themselves in their peculiar nature and the Divine gift of eternal life, which hinders, spoils, and drives away sin. Thus, sin destroys but by self-guarding the “seed of God” that abides in them.[26] Like a spiritual farmer planting the seed of God’s Word, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) states that we know (as a fact) that whoever is born (or begotten) of God does not sin. With not sinning as the law, tendency, or ideal of their regenerate nature, they belong to the sphere of light. Therefore, sinning is not an ongoing part of a believer’s nature; but something temporary, to be dropped away in fulfilling the new character.

[1] Colossians 1:13

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

[3] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 81

[4] 2 Timothy 4:7-8

[5] Stock, John: An Exposition of the First Epistle General of St. John, op. cit., pp. 457-458

[6] 1 John 1:6; 2:3ff

[7] Ibid. 3:3ff

[8] Ibid. 2:13, 20ff; 27

[9] Ibid 3:13ff

[10] Ebrard, Johannes H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 342-343

[11] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., p. 390

[12] See 1 John 2:3, 18; 3:2, 14, 19, 24; cf. 5:2, 15, 18, 19, 20

[13] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N.T., Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 41

[14] See Galatians 6:1

[15] John 17:14-15

[16] Alexander, William: The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 346

[17] See 1 John 3:9

[18] See John 14:30

[19] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hours with St. John’s Epistles, op. cit., pp. 147-149

[20] 1 John 2:3, 18; 3:2, 14, 19, 24; 5:2, 15, 18, 19, 20

[21] Ibid. 2:21; 5:13

[22] 1 Corinthians 8:1, 4; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Romans 2:2; 3:19; 7:14; 8:22, 28; 1 Timothy 1:8

[23] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John: Greek Text with Notes, op. cit., pp. 193-194

[24] Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:36; 1 John 3:6

[25] Maclaren, Alexander: Sermons and Expositions on 1 John, op. cit., “Triumphant Certainties – 1

[26] 1 John 3:9

About drbob76

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