By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXIII) 04/29/23

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.

Thus, a Christian’s characterizing, fulfilling, and conquering human nature is holy as God is holy to explain this case further. The doctrine is inserted again here, not only as a chief and concluding point in the Johannian faith, but to save his readers from inferring that because a spiritual brother or sister sins[1] and needs intercession, they, therefore, are under a continuous tendency to sin, or their new and ultimate nature is otherwise than perfectly holy and utterly apart from Satan.

It is a notable illustration of the complemental and mutually balancing relation of parts of Scripture to be remembered by an interpreter, student, and teacher. But he that is born of God keeps himself pure. The Revised Version renders it “He who was born of God keeps him,” as the critical text requires. And as far as the structure of the sentence is concerned, the most natural reference of “him”’ is to God,[2] and the thought is that the regenerate believer keeps God – that is, preserves them in vital union with themselves. The new birth contains God’s nature as partners with Him. Here is the true secret and reason for the “perseverance of the saints,”[3] and the assertion of the fact is beyond arguing.[4]

Noting the Apostle John’s doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1923) says that the first point to be noticed here is the threefold repetition of “know” in this and the two following verses. It gives a special meaning to this conclusion of the Epistle. Three things are specially singled out as recognized by the Christian consciousness. (1) The knowledge that an inward power enables the Christian to preserve himself from sin.[5] (2) The knowledge that this inward power results from our new birth from on high and our severance from a godless society.[6] (3) The knowledge that this new birth inspires our understandings and keeps the vision of Him that is true before us.[7]

Thus, the Apostle John summarizes three main aspects and points of his teaching which pervade more or less the various sections of his Epistle – our obligation and prerogative of holiness; our opposition to a godless society; our relation to the Person of the Anointed One.”[8]

A tried and tested biblical scholar who believes in building up of the Christian life, Robert Cameron (1839-1904) states that from this point on, the Apostle John proceeds to speak of certain things we know. He uses this term four times in these closing verses. “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin;”[9]We know that we are children of God,”[10] and “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true.”

In other words, “He that is born of God” his mind and understanding enlightened by the “Word,” which was used in his new life, and by the Holy Spirit, who imparted the life through “the incorruptible seed” of the Word. Moreover, the new life has its instincts and tendencies, and “self-preservation is the first law of nature.” Through these new impulses, called the “new heart,” the one who has had a second birth is alive to his spiritual interests and keeps himself – “keeps an eye on himself” – with a view to the preservation and development of his new life derived from God.[11]

Manifestly and distinctly, Erich Haupt (1941-1910) agrees with other commentators that verse seventeen marks the end of the Apostle John’s epistle. Thus, the remaining verses serve as a summation of what has been said up until now. It outlines what Christians receive for themselves, eternal life by faith, and what it confers on them for the benefit of other believers: the power to bring them into the kingdom of God by intercession.

The three verses that follow signify their connection with the thrice-repeated continuation of “know” at the beginning of the clauses. It also reviews the three constitutive elements from which the happy estate of Christians was constructed in the summary of the three previous verses.[12]

With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that “we know!” is a confident expression of the certainty of Christian faith at the beginning of each of these three verses and is the link that binds them together. We have had it twice before:[13] perhaps in all cases, it is meant to mark the contrast between the fundamental knowledge of the believer, based upon Divine revelation in the Anointed One, and the false knowledge of the Gnostic, solely based upon human logic. The quadruple “we know” at the Epistle’s close confirms what the Apostle John said in his Gospel[14] about being the author, not something added by the Ephesian elders. Verse eighteen is a return to his statement in verse nine.[15]

Once more, the Apostle is not afraid of an apparent contradiction.[16] He has just been saying that if a Christian sins, other believers will intercede for them, and now he says that the child of God does not sin. One statement refers to possible but exceptional facts: the other to the chronic state. A child of God may sin, but their normal condition is one of resistance to sin.

However, “He born of God keeps him” should read, “those born of God keep them through intercession.” The first change depends upon a question of interpretation, the second on one of reading, and neither can be determined with certainty. The latter is the easier question and throws light on the former. Nevertheless, “Him” seems to be rightly preferred by most editors. This “him” is the child of God spoken of in the first clause. But who is it that “keeps him?” Not the child of God himself, as many commentators explain, but God’s Son, the Only Begotten.[17] [18]

With regal etiquette, Ernst von Dryander (1843-1922) suggests that the Apostle John does not require or imply by these words’ perfect sinlessness. He would not contradict himself and wrote in the first chapter of his Epistle: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” There can be no perfected saint on this earth. But what he means, of course, is that no child of God can willingly, purposely, insult and grieve its Father, whom it loves; it can find no pleasure in sin but must regard it as a hindrance to life, as a heavy, disagreeable burden, which causes weariness and unhappiness and suffering.

The child of God must know that anger, ambition, and lust are out of place in their heart and must be fought against and overcome; therefore, it must come to this that a child of God cannot sin a “sin deadly to eternal life;” and so the Apostle’s words apply to him when he writes: “He that is born of God keeps for Himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” Believers guard themselves against sin as they lifeguard themselves against death; even when they suffer sin’s consequences, whichever cleaves to them, they do not deliberately sin. The wicked hungry lion[19] finds in them no prey, for he has no power over them.[20]

After scrutinizing the Apostle John’s urging to live in God’s Light of understanding, Aaron M. Hills (1848-1931) says that the argument drawn by some from verse eighteen may lead to the belief that there is no need for a second work of grace to keep us from sinning; that those born of God don’t sin, and this itself is pure and holy living. We reply that we have never asserted that we need sanctification to keep us from sinning; regeneration alone can do that. The work of sanctification goes deeper and takes the “prone to wander” and “want to sin” tendency out of us. Regeneration saves us from the guilt and power of sin, but sanctification delivers us from the inclination to sin.[21]

As a prolific writer on the Final Covenant Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919) also sees verse eighteen as the seal of the Apostle John set upon the work of his life, now drawing to a close; it is, in effect, a seal placed upon the entire fabric of the Apostolic doctrine and testimony by this last survivor of the Twelve and the nearest to the heart of Jesus. Extracting the essential part of the confession, the three short sentences introduced by the thrice-repeated We know, we have John’s creed briefly, in three articles:

We know that whosoever is begotten of God doth not sin.

We know that we are of God.

We know that God’s Son has come.”

In other words, “I believe in holiness,” “I believe in regeneration,” and “I believe in the mission of God’s Son.” Here we find the triple mark of our Christian profession, the standard of the Apostolic faith, and life within the Church – in recognition of our sinless calling, our Divine birth, and the revelation of the true God in Jesus the Anointed One His Son. These are great things for any man to affirm. Nevertheless, it is a grand confession that we make who endorse the Apostle John’s manifesto; it requires a noble style of living to sustain the declaration and prove oneself worthy of the high calling it presumes.[22]

With his stately speaking style, William M. Sinclair (1850-1917) says that there is no reason to add to any “deadly to eternal life” sin. So likewise, in the solemn close of his letter, the Apostle John firmly insists that the ideal Christian mindset has no place for willful sin. Stumbles may happen, even needing friends’ prayers, but not intentional lawlessness. Instead, he that is born of God keeps him: God’s Son preserves him so that the evil one cannot steal them out of His hand.[23]

The last mention of the devil was in verse ten. Satan and his demons may attack but have no influence so long as the Christian abides in the Anointed One.[24] Next, after the critical point that righteousness is the characteristic of the new birth comes the necessity that a Christian should make up their mind that they have been, or are being, born again and are different from a godless society.[25] [26]

Beyond any doubt, remarks Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901), the Apostle John taught that divine life is hostile to all sin. Some might think too lightly of sin, so John recalls that the Anointed One stands in opposition to all sin and that one who possesses divine life, because being born of God, separates themselves from sin. How clear the duty to guard against all sin whatever, without looking at “gradational differences,” and, too, how clear the fact that those who have committed sins deadly to eternal life have not been born of God.”[27] To insist that a born-again believer can commit the unpardonable sin is like saying that any child born of one skin color can now change the color of their skin.

Esteemed ministry veteran James B. Morgan (1859-1942) makes the point that some sacred writers discovered extreme jealousy for the holiness of believers. For example, the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to the Anointed One.”[28] To the Ephesians, Paul writes, “the Anointed One loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”[29]

In the same spirit, the words of verse eighteen are uttered by the Apostle John. He had spoken of the sins of believers in the preceding verse. Assuming they would fall victim to sin, he teaches the duty of intercessory prayer on their behalf. “If any man sees his brother sin a sin which is not deadly to eternal life, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not deadly to eternal life.”[30]

John seems to have fear that such admissions might be abused by some as if they represented sin to be inevitable, and therefore, we need not be too concerned about its commission. Hence, he guards his doctrine by immediately adding, “All unrighteousness is sin.”[31] And he proceeds to show what a complete and effectual provision had been made for holiness, saying, in the language of the text, “Whosoever is born of God does not sin; but those born of God keep themselves, so the wicked one cannot touch them.”[32] [33]

In reviewing what the Apostle John says in this verse, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) notes that we find “We know” here in verse eighteen as in other parts of this epistle.[34] We also find “You know” in other locations.[35] It includes that those born of God do not keep on sinning.[36] Also, Satan is not just any evil man.[37]touching him” means laying hold of or grasping rather than a superficial touch.[38] Here the idea is to touch to harm. The devil cannot snatch any believer from the Anointed One.[39] [40]

With characteristic fundamental spiritual thinking, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) mentions that knowledge mentioned here by the Apostle John is intuitive[41] and comes from the nature of God and the life He has given us. The perfect tense expresses the lasting results of “being born of God.” Some who heard what John said may have excluded the possibility of sin. But following his custom, John states the truth without any modifications necessary to individual cases in experience.

The preceding section, as well as the early part of the Epistle, shows that John recognized the fact of sin in Christians. If the reading “himself” is adopted, the meaning must be that those who have experienced the new birth keep themselves from evil by virtue of the power which the new birth places within their reach. In the first clause of the verse, the permanent consequences of the initial transformation are emphasized; here, the stress is laid on the act itself. The fact of the new birth enables them to keep themselves free from the attacks of the evil one.[42]

[1] See 1 John 5:16

[2] The Revised English Bible has: “he is kept safe by God’s Son.”

[3] Perseverance of the saints (also called preservation of the saints) is a Christian teaching that asserts that once a person is truly “born of God” or “regenerated” by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they will continue doing good works and believing in God until the end of their life.

[4] Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 62-63

[5] See 1 John 2:1, 4, 5; 3:3-10, 23,24; 5:2, 3

[6] See Ibid. 1:6; 2-9-11, 15-17; 3:14, 15; 4:1-6; 5:10

[7] See ibid. 1:3, 7; 2:20, 23; 3:1, 2, 9; 4:6-16; 5:1-4, 10-12

[8] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 413-417

[9] 1 John 5:18

[10] Ibid. 5:19

[11] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Light, Life, and Love, op. cit., p. 247

[12] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John: Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, op. cit., pp. 337-338

[13] 1 John 3:2, 14; cf. 2:20, 21; 3:4, 15

[14] John 21:24


[16] 1 John 2:15

[17] 1 John 3:9, 5:1, 4; John 3:6, 8

[18] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, N. T., Vol. IV, pp. 169-170

[19] 1 Peter 5:8-9

[20] Dryander, Ernst von: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., p. 245

[21] Hills, A. M., The Old Man, Ch. 19, p. 118

[22] Findlay, George G., Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 415

[23] John 10:28

[24] Cf. 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:11; Revelation 3:10

[25] 1 John 1:6; 2:3, 5, 29; 3:9, 14, 19, 24; 4:7, 13, 15; 5:1, 10

[26] Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott, op, cit., Vol. 3, p. 493

[27] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., pp. 135-136

[28] 1 Corinthians 11:2

[29] Ephesians 5:26

[30] 1 John 5:16

[31] Ibid. 5:17

[32] Ibid. 3:9

[33] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture L, pp. 498-499

[34] 1 John 3:2, 14; 5:15, 19, 20

[35] Ibid. 2:20; 3:5, 15

[36] Ibid. 3:4-10

[37] Matthew 6:13

[38] Colossians 2:21

[39] John 6:38ff

[40] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures n the New Testament, op. cit., p, 1971

[41] Cf. 1 John 3:9

[42] Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 148-150

About drbob76

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