By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXIV) 05/01/23

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.

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) states that a child of God may fall into sin but not continue in it; they are not under its dominion. Why? Because while they have a vicious adversary, they also have a vigilant Guardian.[1] Jesus, the Anointed Son of God.

As an effective spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) sees the Apostle John making an essential point concerning being God’s child. Once you are born again and become part of God’s family, it is imperative that you cease wanting to practice sinning. In 1 John 3:9, John contributed this tendency to our new “spiritual heredity.” But now he adds another: “Those born of God do not keep on sinning because God protects them from the evil one.” In other words, Jesus’ earthy ministry toward His disciples now extends as a heavenly ministry toward all believers. With this confidence, we should all “resist the devil.”[2] When we do, he will flee and not touch us.[3]

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) sees verse seventeen as forming a transition to verses eighteen to twenty. The idea of prayer still echoes in the phrase, “not all sin is mortal.”[4] However, it has become secondary in John’s thought, whereas the subject of sin, which he treats further, becomes central.[5] John now moves on from the study of Christian certainty in such spiritual activity as prayer[6] to that of confidence in the spiritual knowledge a believer may possess.[7]

However, after verses sixteen and seventeen, which some in heretical circles might have interpreted as encouraging an indifferent attitude toward sin (“ask, and God will give life” to the sinner; “not all sin is mortal”), John makes a climactic statement on the subject. No incentive to sin is offered; instead, it is alleged that no one born of God continues to sin since they are protected by the Anointed One from God. As members of God’s family (“born of God”), it is implied that Christians are to develop the family likeness, including proper conduct.[8] In verse twenty-one, John issues a final warning.[9]

An insistent believer in God’s Grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008) agrees that the Apostle John affirmed that anyone born of God is a person whose true, inward nature is inherently sinless.[10] The additional statement about the one born of God is not, as often suggested, a reference to the Anointed One. John nowhere else referred to the Anointed One in this way, and he was still writing about regenerated people. With this view, the word “himself” should be read in place of “him.” John thus affirmed that “the one who has been born of God keeps himself (there is no word for “safe” in the original Greek). It restates the truth of 1 John 3:9 in a slightly different form. A believer’s new man (or “new self;”)[11] is fundamentally resistant to sin, and hence the evil one,[12] Satan, does not ambush him.[13]

As a capable scripture analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) notes that having concluded his appeal to the church members to pray for one another to be rescued from sin, the Apostle John comes to the strong statement of belief, which forms the climax of his letter. First, he takes up his keyword from verse thirteen: “I write these things to you … so that you may know.” Then, in three affirmations, he declares the content of this Christian knowledge that should characterize his readers.

It may be significant that the Greek word he uses expresses a state of knowledge rather than the action of coming to know something. Nevertheless, John is declaring what he and his fellow Christians know, and his readers should be able to include themselves in the number of those whose Christian faith is a matter of certainty and assurance.[14]

As a seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935), describes John’s explanation of why the one born of God does not sin as perplexing. The parallelism with 1 John 3:9 suggests that “the One born of God … keeps everyone born of God.” A minor textual variant shows that this was an early scribal solution to this problem. Grammatically, if we take both statements concerning the one born of God as references to the believer, then the one born of God keeps themselves.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that John would say that the one born of God keeps himself, even if John noted that the young men had conquered the Evil One and the one who believes has conquered a godless society.[15] The power that gives victory is “our faith,” which is not just subjective belief but also the content of faith that Jesus is God’s Son.[16] Nevertheless, this interpretation is attested as early as Origen (185-253 AD) and by Sinaiticus[17] and the corrector of Alexandrinus[18] and cannot be ruled out.[19]

Ministry & Missions Overseer Muncia Walls (1937) says that here we have another verse presenting confusion about what the Apostle John means. Some feel that he is speaking of the person who has been born again and, as such, does not commit sin. Others, on the other hand, feel that John is referring to Jesus when he refers to the one who is born of God. But the phrase “he that is born of God keeps himself;” motivated Bible Scholars to propose at least five interpretations of this line. (1) Being born of God is what guards him. (2) The one born of God is Jesus, who guards him. (3) The one born by God (the Christian) guards himself. (4) The one born of God (the Christian) holds on to Him (God) as his guardian. (5) The one born of God (the Christian). God guards him (the Christian).

In deciding between these five interpretations, Walls feels that (1) and (4) are the weakest. The crucial point is whether the one born is the Christian (3, 5) or Jesus (2). He is inclined to favor (1) and (4) because he finds it hard to believe that if the Johannine writers thought that God had begotten Jesus, they would never elsewhere have used that language in the many passages on the subject.

As for the issue of whether the Christian guards himself or God guards him, my translation “is protected” leaves that undecided. It does not make much difference, for only the Christian’s status as a child of God enables him to protect himself. The idea that John is conveying in this verse is not that once you are born again, you will never sin again. But he is saying that those born again will not continue sinning. It is because the Lord now lives in his life through the Spirit to guard him against the temptations to sin. [20]

As an articulate spokesman for the Reformed Faith movement, James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) states that the Apostle John’s first affirmation is that the one who is born of God does not sin. At first glance, this statement seems contradictory to John’s repeated declaration in chapter one that anyone who says they do not sin or has never sinned is either seif-deceived or a liar, just as 1 John 3:4-10 seems contrary to those same statements.

But the conflict is only apparent, and our discussion of the earlier passage indicates how we should deal with this one. Here, as in 1 John 3:4-10, the verbs are in the present tense, meaning habitual or continuous action. So, the statement is not that the Christian cannot fall into sin; indeed, he can and does. But instead, while he may fall into sin, he cannot continue in it indefinitely. In other words, if the individual is genuinely born of God, the new birth will result in a new behavior. [21]

After scrutinizing the Apostle John’s subject theme, William Loader (1944) states that there seems to be a contradiction in the first reading between 5.16-17 and 18. In the former, the Apostle John has been instructing Christians on what to do when they see fellow Christian’s sinning. In verse eighteen, Christians do not sin: no child of God sins. John is picking up the assertion made already in verses seventeen to twenty. The comments on these verses discuss the matter in detail. In effect, John thinks in terms of systems of cause and effect. The child of God (literally: “the person born of God”) belongs within a system of relationships that has fruit, not sin but goodness and love. It begins and ends in love.[22]

Great Commission practitioner David Jackman (1945) notes that verse eighteen and the following two verses begin with a shout of confidence, we know! They continue with a closing emphasis on some of the great assurances already expounded more fully elsewhere in the letter. Here is actual knowledge. It is the birthright of the humblest Christian by the Spirit through God’s Word, compared with the spurious theorizing of the false teachers based solely on their inflated egos and ingenious imaginations. True believers know these things from the beginning and from which they need never be shaken. [23]

After studying the context surrounding this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) believes that the word that John uses for sin in this verse refers to one immersed in a sinful lifestyle. Christians do not pursue wrongdoing; it is not their nature.  Those born of God do not seek out and practice sin as their basic lifestyle.  Because the Holy Spirit is working in them, their desire is not to sin, and though they stumble and fall, they continue to press toward the mark of the high calling of Jesus the Anointed One. This is the nature of grace: though we do not deserve it, the LORD has provided forgiveness for missing the mark.

Consequently, through the LORD’s grace, those who have come to Him in faith find forgiveness for sin and are assured eternal salvation. By making this choice of faith, the believer has been given everlasting protection against the evil one who would otherwise seal the eternal fate of death. Though the evil one has considerable influence over the life of the believer through both our natural desires and through the wicked behavior of others, he cannot take away the salvation of the faithful. He has no power to touch the promise of God. He has no authority over the Holy Spirit.[24]

A man who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) is convinced that the Apostle John draws heavily on truths he already stated. He begins by reassuring readers that his counsel may have been perplexing regarding sin and death in previous verses. If they are born of God, they do not sin – that is, they do not persist in the sorts of sin that John writes this epistle to criticize and correct. Deadly sins on their part are of no concern. Why? Their assurance is founded on the atoning work of the Anointed One. “The one born of God” comes to their aid.

By now, such a phrase is shorthand for the numerous ministries performed for believers by Jesus: coming to bring eternal life,[25] cleansing from sin,[26] interceding in the Father’s presence,[27] dying a conciliatory death,[28] confirming knowledge,[29] destroying the devil’s works,[30] teaching believers the meaning of love.[31] In the first two clauses of verse eighteen, John emphasizes that faithful readers need not be anxious despite the dire warnings implicit in previous verses.[32]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and Final Covenant writings, Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that the Apostle John restates something written earlier in the letter about anyone born of God does not continue to sin.[33] His readers, unlike the secessionists, have been born of God, so they will not continue in sin. By using a present tense form of the verb “does not,” John portrays the sinning here (as in 1 John 3:9) as an ongoing process. In 3:9, the basis for the readers not continuing to sin was that they were born of God, and God’s “seed” remains in them. In verse eighteen, the basis of their not sinning is put differently: the one who was born of God keeps himself safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.[34] In this epistle of John, most references to being born of God relate to believers.

However, in verse eighteen, “the one born of God” is best interpreted as a reference to Jesus. This appropriate interpretation is supported by the fact that in John’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the one who keeps His disciples safe. In Jesus’ prayer, He speaks of having kept secure all those whom God had given Him[35] (except Judas, who was doomed to destruction) and prays, not that God will take them out of a godless society, but that “He will “protect them from the evil one.”[36] [37]

Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) says that after the repetition of key phrases about confession: the unseen God, the child of God, and agápē, verses thirteen to seventeen round out the rest of the discourse, leading up to the speech, which begins in verse eighteen. In this section, the author’s use of a rhetorical device that “consists in dwelling on the same topic and yet seeming to say something ever new” is undoubtedly foremost in John’s mind as he continues to switch the subjects of love and true confessions.

In neither John’s Gospel nor his first epistle, such remarks indicate that a customary closing of his letter is in progress or about to happen. They are not even a familiar feature of expository. They are simple purpose statements that can occur in literary documents and at various junctures (though usually toward the end). In any case, the actual closing of this document will not commence until 1 John 5:18, when we have a relatively standard lecture displaying rhetorical or oratorical skills.[38]

[1] Smith, David: The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., pp. 198-199

[2] James 4:7

[3] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., p. 59

[4] Cf. 1 John 5:16

[5] See Ibid. 3:6, 9; 5:18

[6] Ibid. 5:14-17

[7] Ibid. 5:18-20

[8] Cf. 1 John 2:29; 3:1-10; 4:7; 5:1-4

[9] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 301-302

[10] Cf. 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4

[11] See Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10

[12] Cf. 1 John 2:13-14; 3:12

[13] Hodges, Zane C., Biblical Knowledge Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 251

[15] See 1 John 2:13-14

[16] Ibid. 5:4-5

[17] Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in a godless society. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.

[18] Copied in the 5th century, Codex Alexandrinus is one of the three early Greek manuscripts that preserve both the Old and the New Testaments together. Its name (‘Book from Alexandria’) derives from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, where it was preserved before the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril Lucar (d. 1638) brought it to Constantinople in 1621

[19] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[20] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 94-95

[21] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, An Expository Commentary, op. cit., p. 145

[22] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 78

[23] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Epistles, op. cit., p. 167

[24] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), op. cit., pp. 135-136

[25] 1 John 1:2

[26] Ibid. 1:7

[27] Ibid. 2:1

[28] Ibid. 2:2

[29] Ibid. 2:20

[30] Ibid. 3:8

[31] Ibid. 3:16

[32] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 315-316

[33] Cf. 1 John 3:9

[34] 1 John 2:29; 3:92x; 4:7; 5:1, 18x2

[35] John 17

[36] Ibid. 17:12-15

[37] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[38] Witherington, Ben III., Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

About drbob76

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