By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXVII) 05/04/23

5:19 We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.

But the evil one is of this world and all things in it, which are placed there like objects imprisoned in the wicked one’s share. Therefore, as the Apostle John said, the whole world lies in the possession of the wicked, not in God.[1] Wherefore we have maintained that there are two localities – one good and another which lies outside of this. For if we say that there is but a monarchy of one nature, God fills all things, and there is no location outside Him, what will be the sustainer of His creation. So, where is Gehenna’s fire?[2] Where is the outer darkness? Where is weeping? It is possible; it lies within Himself? God forbid; else He will also be made to suffer from these. Therefore, entertain no such fancies, if anything, about your salvation.[3]

It is sad that after only three hundred years after our Lord’s ascension, such subjects were the main course of discussions and arguments in the Church. Instead of focusing on the teachings, the cross, His resurrection, ascension, and return, it was on trivial matters. Have we progressed any since then? I can recall the 1960s “God is Dead” theory, controversy over Situation Ethics, the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional abortion guarantee, the legalization of Gay Marriage, the adoption of Lesbian ministers and pastors, the rise of LGBTQ+ Christian churches, and so on. Are they the real reason for such decadence?

Listen to what God told the prophet Hosea: “My people are destroyed because they don’t know Me, and it is all your fault, you priests, for you refuse to know Me; therefore, I refuse to recognize you as my priests. Since you have forgotten my laws, I will ‘forget’ to bless your children.’”[4]

Even unbelieving Jews fell into two groups when it came to the Gospel. “Those in Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica and gladly listened to the message. Moreover, they searched the Scriptures daily to check on Paul and Silas’ statements to see if they were factual.”[5] And the Apostle Paul had this prayer for the Ephesians:

Why does God give us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity; until finally, we all believe alike about our salvation and our Savior, God’s Son, and all become full-grown in the Lord ‒ yes, to the point of being filled full with Christ. Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.”[6]

With a studious monk’s spiritual insight, Bede the Venerable (672-735) says we know that we are of God because we have been born again by grace and baptism through faith, and we know too that we shall persevere in that faith to the very end. But those who love a godless society are subjected to the enemy, and no water of regeneration can deliver them from that subjection, especially if they sin again after baptism. Nor is it just the lovers of a godless society who are in this state because it also applies to those newly born again and who have inherited the guilt of original sin, although they cannot yet tell the difference between good and evil. Such people remain in the enemy’s power unless, by the power of a loving Creator, they are taken out of Satan’s regime of darkness and placed in the Anointed One’s Kingdom of Light.

Respected Reformation writer, Matthew Poole (1624-1679) notes that in verse nineteen, the Apostle John does not exclusively assume this status of being born again. But rather, he expresses his generous confidence in them, to whom he writes that it was his privilege to share this in common with them, to be of God, or born of Him; despite the general population who were under the power of that before-mentioned wicked one, or amid all of sin’s impurity and malignity. And we know that God’s Son has come and given us knowledge that we might know the True One; and that we might be in the True One, in His Son Jesus the Anointed One. He is the true God and the life eternal.[7]

A young independent, thinking theological sage, Hugh Binning (1627-1653), says that if we believe that our descent is from an uncreated Spirit, how powerful might that be to conform you more and more to Him and to transform more and more control of your flesh to the spirit! Nothing will raise the hearts of the Princes of Peace’s subjects more than realizing their royal birth and dignity. How should this consideration make your spirits suitable to your state or fortunes, as we use to say? You would labor to raise them to that height and walk worthy of that high calling.

O that we might learn from what the Apostle Paul gives the Corinthian believers.[8] A soul with the meditation of this royal descent from God could not possibly glory in those disgraceful things humanity glories in and not contain or restrain any boasting. The praise of many is their shame because it is sinful. But suppose that in which they glory is not shameful, as the lawful things of this world, yet certainly it is a great shame for a Christian to glory in them or esteems them as reasonable.

If we remain mindful that we are of God, born of God, what power do you think temptations, or baits to sin, would have over us! As the Apostle John says, “He that is born of God does not sin, he keeps himself, and that wicked one cannot touch him.” Indeed, this consideration imprinted in the heart would elevate us above all these baser persuasions of the flesh. This would make sin loathsome and despicable, as the most significant indignity we could do to our spiritual nature.

The strength and advantage of sin make us forget what we are and with whom we have a relationship. Are we to drink from a godless society’s puddle, or then with our jealousies and suspicions, forget our birth and state and so be enticed to do anything a godless society does? If you could beat back all the fiery darts of the devil, take the shield of this faith and persuasion;[9] how would it silence temptations? As Nehemiah asked, “Should someone in my position run from danger?”[10] Ask yourself, “Should I, born of the Spirit; who is of God in the Anointed One, humiliate myself to such unworthy and base things? Shall I dishonor our heavenly Father and disgrace myself?[11]

There is nothing more commendable to a Christian than to look around and view the whole world lying in wickedness, then to look backward to what they once were and compare it with what they are now that God’s grace has set them free. O, what a soul-stirring perspective that is in relation to what the Apostle John says in verse nineteen. How does this increase the value of grace, and how much does it add to a soul’s inward contentment to think about what it used to be and what it would undoubtedly have become if not for God’s grace! People often looked to those as inferior, so they might not envy those superior to them.

So, it might do well when a Christian is grieved and disturbed because they have not attained that desired measure of the image of God, and fellowship with Him, to cast a look about to the miserable and hopeless estate of so many thousands who have the appearance of Satan so visibly engraved on them and have no inward stirring after this blessed image; and reflect on the slimy pit from whence they were rescued, to look upon that primitive estate in which grace found them as described by Ezekiel.[12]

Would such hindsight not make them break out in admiration and be powerful enough to comfort and compose their spirit? Such were some of you. Then consider though the stains of sin were as red as crimson and scarlet,[13] yet they were washed clean by the blood of the Anointed One to enroll you in heaven’s register – what an astonishing thought is it![14]

In his fiery manner, John Flavel (1627-1691) suggests that we study worldly people’s eternal futility in having any idea of how empty they become when they lose all their worldly affections. It is the false image of a godless society in their fancy that crucifies them with so many cares and solicitudes about it, and it is the true image of a godless society, represented to us in the mirror of God’s Word, which significantly helps us to crucify our worldly affections. “O, if we could only believe three things about a godless society, we would never be so fond of it as we are.”

The best and sweetest enjoyments in a godless society are fading flowers and withering grass.[15] Yes, it is defiling and disappearing because it “lies in wickedness” and spreads universal infection among all humanity.[16] For sure, it destroys and defiles multitudes of souls, drowning in the sea of damnation.[17] Nevertheless, millions of souls will wish they had never known its riches, pleasures, or honors for eternity.[18]

From his scriptural viewpoint, William Burkitt (1650-1703) believes that the far part of a godless society’s residents is under the dominion of the “wicked one,” sunk into idolatry, and worshippers of the devil. Nevertheless, they continue their impure and corrupt living, wholly committed to mischief and wickedness. We see the darkness and horror of an unregenerate and unconverted state under Satan’s dominion. But behold the blessed change Christianity makes, not in the profession but its practice. It delivers from the power of darkness and the power of Satan, the prince of darkness, and translates us into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

With meticulous Greek text examination and confirmation, Johann Bengel (1687-1752) defines “from” in verse nineteen as an abbreviated expression: We are from God and abide in God, but a godless society is from the wicked one and lies wholly in the wicked one’s grasp. Therefore, a godless society can no more touch the sons of God than the wicked one, under whose power they are prisoners. The wicked one, in verse eighteen, is opposed to Him that is true in verse twenty. Therefore, a godless society [including the educated, the respectable, and all others, except those claiming God as their heavenly Father and the Anointed One as their Savior] are not touched by the “wicked one.” 

All others, as we say in German bleibt liegen, (remain lying [down]), by means of idolatry, blindness, deceit, violence, lust, irreverence, and all wickedness, in the evil one, destitute both of life from God and of understanding.[19] The dreadful condition of a godless society is most vividly portrayed in this summary. No other commentary is needed than a godless society itself and worldly people’s actions, discussions, contracts, strifes, and brotherhoods. They esteem themselves happy in their wretchedness and the sons of God as destitute of what is good for their welfare. Furthermore, there is an antithesis in abides, as applied to God and the saints. Those who are regenerate have what they pray for and need according to God’s will.[20] [21]

As an unapologetic Gospel preacher, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) notes that after Christianity in Europe came into prominence in the Middle Ages, Christians had the upper hand in nations and civil communities while a greater part of humanity remained in their old heathen state of ignorance and wickedness. And besides, as Christians gained influence in secular affairs, true reverence declined, and corruption and wickedness prevailed among them. And as to the state of the Christian world, politics and the implementation of humanities became paramount in the Church’s hierarchy and theology.

In giving an account of how the doctrine of original sin came to prevail among Christians, Dr. Thomas Taylor (1576-1632) observes, “That the Christian religion was very early and grievously corrupted, by dreaming, ignorant, superstitious monks . . . The generality of Christians has embraced this persuasion concerning original sin, and the consequence has been that, in general, Christians have been the most wicked, lewd, bloody, and treacherous of all humanity.”[22]

With all the Apostle John’s themes in mind, John Wesley (1703-1791) shares that one of his followers wrote him with a question, “I have no witness that I am saved from sin. And yet I have no doubts of it.” “Very well,” says Wesley, “as long as you have no doubt, it is enough; you will need that witness when you have doubts.” “But what scripture makes mention of any such thing or gives any reason to expect it?” That scripture is, “And we have received God’s Spirit (not a godless society’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.”[23]

Now, sanctification is one of God’s things freely given to us, and no possible reason can be given why this should not be expected when it is freely given to us. Is it not the same thing implied in that well-known scripture, “For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.[24] Does the Spirit witness this only to those who are children of God in the lowest sense? No, but to those also who are such in the highest degree. What reason have we to doubt it?[25]

With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800) asserts that we know that we are born of God. The Greek text says we know that we are “from God.” But the full circle expression must be completed from verse eighteen by supplying “having been born.”[26] But the whole world lies under the power of the wicked one. In verse nineteen, as in chapter 1 John 2:16, “world” does not signify the earth’s material fabric but its evil inhabitants. It denotes all the idolaters, infidels, and wicked people of a godless society, having made themselves the devil’s subjects. It may be said that they lie under the rule of the wicked one, under his dominion: just as believers in the next verse say, they are in or under the true God by being under His Son.[27] The devil’s power in the lower world is over its inhabitants[28] is often spoken of in scripture. He is called the prince and the power of the air, the spirit which now works inwardly in the children of disobedience.[29] He is also said to be the god of this world and blinds the minds of unbelievers. He is labeled our adversary and is said to be roaming around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may swallow up.[30]

[1] 1 John 5:19

[2] Gehenna is the place where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch in the “valley of the son of Hinnom,” to the south of Jerusalem (Josh. 15:8, passim; II Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 2:23; 7:31-32; 19:6, 13-14). For this reason, the valley was deemed to be accursed, and “Gehenna” therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for “hell.” 

[3] Archelaus: Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch, Manes, Ch. 14, p. 17

[4] Hosea 4:6

[5] Acts of the Apostles 17:11

[6] Ephesians 4:14

[7] Poole, Matthew. Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:30-31

[9] Ephesians 6:16

[10] Nehemiah 6:11

[11] Binning, Hugh: The Sinner’s Sanctuary, Sermon XVI, p. 185

[12] Ezekiel 16

[13] Isaiah 1:18

[14] Ibid. Sermon XXIII, p. 215

[15] Isaiah 40:6; James 1:10-11

[16] 2 Peter 1:4

[17] 1 Timothy 6:9

[18] Flavel, John: The Method of Grace: How the Spirit Works, op. cit., Ch. 28, p. 400

[19] See 1 Corinthians 5:11; 11:32

[20] 1 John 2:2

[21] Bengel, Johann: Gnomon on the New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 4, pp.153-154

[22] Edwards, Jonathan, Works of, op. cit., Vol. 2, Original Sin Defended, Part, 1, Ch. 1, Sec. 7, p. 497

[23] 1 Corinthians 2:12

[24] Romans 8:16

[25] Wesley, John, Works of, op. cit., Vol. 11, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Written on Saturday, May 2, 1761, pp. 493-494

[26] See 1 John 3:12

[27] 1 Thessalonians 1:1

[28] Ephesians 2:2

[29] 2 Corinthians 4:4

[30] 1 Peter 5:8

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By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXVI) 05/03/23

5:19 We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.

Jesus responded to the question by Jewish Rabbi and Sanhedrin member Nicodemus about entering the Kingdom of God and told him Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s impossible to see what I’m pointing to is God’s kingdom.” When Nicodemus did not seem to understand, Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me repeat it. Unless a person submits to this original creation – the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life – it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.”[1]

The Apostle James noted that God chose to birth us by giving us His Word in the flesh. And we, out of all creation, became His prized possession.[2] And the Apostle Peter told his readers that they had a new life. It was not passed on to you from your parents, for the life they gave you will fade away. However, this new one will last forever, for it comes from the Anointed One, God’s ever-living Message to humanity.[3]

Here John remembers what Jesus said, “If you belonged to a godless society, a godless society would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you to be different from those in a godless society. So, you don’t belong to a godless society, which is why a godless society hates you.”[4] We must never forget that it’s not just a matter of us protecting ourselves; Jesus is also busy watching us. Only heaven will reveal the many times that the Anointed One through the Holy Spirit changed our departure times, missing a turn on the highway, not picking up the phone, not meeting someone we were scheduled to see, stopping somewhere we weren’t planning on, etc., in order to protect us.  We need all the help we can get because of what John points out here.

That’s why Jesus was adamant that His followers understand, “When the Helper comes, He will show the people of a godless society how wrong they are about sin, about being right with God, and about judgment. He will prove that they are guilty of sin because they don’t believe in me. He will show them how wrong they are about how to be right with God. The Helper will do this because I am going to the Father. You will not see me then. And He will show them how wrong their judgment is, because their leader has already been condemned.[5]

Considering this, let’s look at what happened to Stephen and James. The evil one certainly caused them physical harm, but it was to the glory of God.  John is talking about any spiritual damage the devil may cause, the kind that would jeopardize our standing with God and our gift of eternal life. The difference, says John, is that the unconverted sinner is under the control and influence of the devil, while the converted believer is under the power and influence of the Anointed One. As a result, even if the child of God errs or makes a mistake, God’s Son watches over them, and the devil cannot get near them to do what he did to Adam and Eve.

Again, let us remind ourselves that sinning disobeys God’s Word and will. If an unconverted sinner is found doing things God is against and does not approve of, the motivation for such deeds comes from the devil’s influence. They are already under condemnation, and death will be their destiny. However, when converted believer disobeys God’s Word and will for their lives since they belong to Him, He is more interested in saving them than losing them because of the high price He paid for them.

Verses four and five clearly state, Every child of God has power over the sins of a godless society. The way we have power over the sins of a godless society is by our faith. Who could have no power over a godless society except by believing that Jesus is God’s Son.” But not just the Father; John says that God’s Son also watches over them so that Satan cannot enter their hearts and minds and take over control of their lives. Just as the only one who can open the door of their hearts to let Jesus in is the person, the same applies to opening the entryway to the devil and letting him back in. If Jesus is in charge, He will open the door, and Satan has no interest in coming in where Jesus is Lord.

We should also note that this is the third and last “we know” of this section.  We know two truths in this verse: 1) we know that God is our Father and 2) that a godless society system is under the dominion of Satan. One is positive and the other negative. We are either a child of God or part of the devil’s brood.[6] We enjoy the certainty of our relationship to the Father. In verse nineteen, the Apostle John shows the distinction between those who find their origin in God and those who find their descent in Satan. The divine capacity/nature is inherently sinless, while the sin nature lies under the sway of Satan.[7] Therefore, the kind of life we have corresponds to its source.

When Christians sin, they step out of their spiritual character. The partition between the believer’s kingdom and a godless society’s system is as great as the separation between God and Satan. The essential division from the satanic system occurred at the point of salvation, so Christians have an entirely new way of living.  Previously they walked according to the norms and standards of this world. Apart from God, there is no satisfaction. Christians are fully aware that they act out of character when they sin because the cross is an offense to this world’s system.[8] 

People living under this system do not want any authority over them, and especially they do not care for God’s sovereignty over them. They do not like being told that it is not right to undermine their fellow man with lies. They desire the privileges in God’s Word if it is convenient for their plans. They will deceive anyone to accomplish their purposes. All of this occurs because Satan deludes them. He blinds their eyes and minds.[9]

Some people say, “The devil made me do it.” Satan may tempt us, but he cannot make us sin. The devil cannot recapture the true believer and make them his slave. The evil one might intimidate us into doing this, but it is only a hollow threat. He can make us question our salvation, but he cannot take it from us. He can derail our fellowship with the Lord but not our relationship. He cannot make us sin, but he can set the context for inducement to sin.

The truth is, we do not have to keep ourselves saved. Christians can no more keep themselves saved than they can redeem themselves.  It is Jesus that safeguards us. He provides and protects. The One who rescued us in the first place keeps us in the second place. A Christian cannot confidently serve the Lord until they believe in their soul’s eternal security. Otherwise, everything they do, they do with the idea of keeping themselves saved.  Their priority is to stack up merits with God. It all results in the energy of the flesh.

So, when we look at verse nineteen, this is the second remarkable fact of which Christians have certainty. They, as God’s children, and preserved from the evil one by His Son, have nothing to do with a godless society, which still lies under the power of the evil one. The “the evil one” is not neuter but masculine is evident from the context, as well as from 1 John 2:13.[10] By saying that it lies in the evil one’s hands represents it as being under the dominion of Satan. There is, therefore, no reason why we should hesitate to shun a godless society, which despises God and delivers itself into the bondage of Satan; nor is there any reason why we should fear its hostility, because it is alienated from God.


This verse has comments, interpretations, and insights of the Early Church Fathers, Medieval Thinkers, Reformation Theologians, Revivalist Teachers, Reformed Scholars, and Modern Commentators.

Dionysius the Areopagite (circa 15-76 AD), who was converted to Christianity by the Apostle Paul when he visited Athens,[11] is commenting on Luke 22:46, where Jesus comes back from praying and finds His disciples sound asleep. So, He says to them, “Get up and pray so that you will not give in to temptation.” Dionysius says that no one can remain free from experiencing moments of weakness. As the Apostle John says, “We know that we are children of God and that a godless society around us is under the control of the evil one.”[12] Not only that but that most of a person’s days are travail and trouble.”[13] But you might ask, “What difference is there between resisting and falling into temptation?”

Living in a world ruled by the devil, if a person is overcome by evil – they will be overcome unless they struggle against it unless God protects them with His shield. The fact that a person has entered into temptation is like a person led into captivity. But if a person withstands and endures, that individual has not entered temptation or fallen into it. Was not Jesus led by the Spirit into a wasteland but did not enter into the temptations offered by the devil?[14] Thus the wicked one, when he tempts us, draws us into the same tricks he tempted Jesus. For God, it is said, “cannot be tempted of evil.”[15] The devil, therefore, drives us by enticements to destruction; but God leads us by the hand to everlasting life.[16]

With philosophic-theologic intensity, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD): “World” does not mean creation as a whole but rather worldly people and those who live according to their lusts. Senseless reasoning. A godless society subjected to Evil. [17]

With great assurance, early church ecclesiastical teacher Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD) sees the Apostle John calling the “world,” that is, those who love a godless society, as being subjected to evil. This includes everybody because we are all born under sin, which traces its origin to the disobedience of Adam. Many heretics claim that there is a creator god who made a godless society evil to begin with, but this is not so. The word refers to people, not to the material substance of creation. We Are of God.

With a studious monk’s spiritual insight, Bede (672-735 AD): We know that we are of God because we have been born again by grace and baptism through faith, and we know too that we shall persevere in that faith to the very end. But those who love a godless society are subjected to the enemy, and no water of regeneration can deliver them from that subjection, especially if they sin again after baptism. It is not just the lovers of a godless society who are in this state because it also applies to those who are newly born and who have inherited the guilt of original sin, although they cannot yet tell the difference between good and evil. Such people remain in the enemy’s power unless, by the authority of a loving Creator, they are taken out of Satan’s dominion of darkness and placed under the Son’s kingdom of Light and Love.[18]

After a stealthy investigation of the Apostle John’s letter, Isho’dad of Merv (800-900 AD): A godless society is subjected to the perversion which gives birth to sin, and because of that, it is prone to the cultivation of evil.[19]

Now the followers of Origen (184-253 AD) were discussing this passage, “We know that our body – the human-made physical tent we live in here on earth will be destroyed. But when that happens, God will have a heaven-made home for us to live in. It will be our forever home in heaven.”[20] They sought to disprove the resurrection of the body. They were saying that the “tent” is our temporary covering on earth. In contrast, our “forever home” in heaven is our spiritual clothing.

Then someone presented the writings of Methodius (815-885 AD).[21] He said this earthly house must be understood metaphorically as our short-lived existence here, not this tent. Therefore, if you consider the body as the earthly house which wears out, tell us whose heavenly home is dissolved? For the tent is one thing, and the heavenly home is another. Therefore, if this present body life crumbles like an old house, we still have that which is not made with hands in heaven. The body, the result of human reproduction, also houses the soul, which is the workmanship of God.

So, what, then, is the house made with hands? It is a short-lived existence sustained by human hands. God said, “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground.”[22] After that, we have the body not made with hands. As the Lord showed when He said: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, they will welcome you to an eternal home when your possessions are gone.”[23] As then, when the days of our present life end, those good deeds of kindness which you did in this world “under the control of Satan,[24] souls will rest in peace with God until we receive the new house that will never fail prepared for us.[25]

A Persian prophet named Mani (216-277 AD) and the founder of Manichaeism, a religion of antiquity strongly influenced by Gnosticism, is reported as saying: “I hold that there are two natures, one good and another evil; and that the one which is good dwells in a certain part proper to it, but that the evil one is this world as well as all things in it, which are placed there like objects imprisoned in the portion of the wicked one.” So, we see that Manes worships two unoriginated, self-existent, and eternal deities who were opposed to one another. He one is represented one as good and the other as evil and assigned the name “Light to the former, and Darkness to the latter.” This was in harmony with what the Apostle John says here in verse nineteen, “We know that we are children of God and that all the rest of a godless society around us is under Satan’s power and control.”[26]

Archelaus,Bishop of Caesarea (circa 301-399), is the assumed author of a Christian polemic against the Manicheans in 278 AD. It resulted from a trial of a Heretic Persian prophet named Manes over disputed doctrines. One of the judges asked him if he had any more precise statement to make that would give them some explanation of the nature of his doctrine and the designation of his faith. Manes replied: I hold that there are two natures, one good and another evil and that the good one dwells in a particular portion itself.

[1] Ibid. 3:3-5

[2] James 1:18

[3] 1 Peter 1:23

[4] John 15:18-19

[5] Ibid. 16:8-11

[6] 2 Peter 1:2-4

[7] 1 John 3:9; 5:1, 4

[8] Galatians 4:3-4

[9] John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Job 1:10; 2:5; Romans 16:20

[10] Cf. 1 John 2:14; 4:4

[11] Acts of the Apostles 17:34

[12] 1 John 5:19

[13] Psalm 90:10

[14] Matthew 4:1

[15] James 1:13

[16] Dionysius, Exegetical Fragments II: the Gospel According to Luke. An Interpretation, Ch. 22:42-48, p. 116, ⁋46


[18] Didymus the Blind: Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 228

[19] Isho’dad of Merv: Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 228

[20] 2 Corinthians 5:1

[21] Methodius (815-885 AD) was a Byzantine Christian theologian and missionary evangelizing what is known today as Serbia of former Yugoslavia. On one occasion the disciples of early church scholar Origen

[22] Genesis 3:19

[23] Luke 16:9

[24] 1 John 5:19

[25] Methodius, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI, Part 2, From the Discourse on the Resurrection, pp. 709-710

[26] Augustine of Hippo, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 4, The Manichaean Controversy, trans. By Richard Stothert and Albert H. Newman, p. 19

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By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXV) 05/02/23

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 her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) points out that the Apostle John’s First Letter reaches its powerful conclusion with three confident affirmations, “We know,[1] as a confessional formula familiar within the Johannine tradition. These appeal to shared certainties, even if, at times, they have been argued earlier in the letter.[2] Within the rhetoric of the letter, the word “we” now includes the readers who can make these certainties their own: in saying “we know,” John is not stating the obvious but is inviting his audience to acknowledge these as truths for them and to also acknowledge the consequences.

If they were recognized as prescribed, these readers would be aware that they were participating in a tradition that did not originate with them and was not limited to them. The unexpected direct address of verse twenty-one will reinforce both this and their urgency to commit themselves. However, the following certainties recall the story of God’s Son in chapter three and the dichotomous world it shaped. It means that the “we know” works equally as an internal cross-reference, taking the audience back to the earlier argument to which they have indirectly assented, [3]

Contextual interpretation specialist Gary M. Burge (1952) says that prayer thoughts become more somber in verses sixteen to eighteen, but there is an essential link with the preceding verses. Christians alert to God’s will know with confidence the success of their prayers. But likewise, they should see the seriousness of sin and how it impedes spiritual vitality. Moreover, they should know the power of prayer for another person – particularly those who sin. John has likely been leading up to this all along. In the letter, he marked off clear boundaries between true believers and the secessionists, the orthodox and the heretical. He emphasized the importance of sin and righteousness for the church.[4]

Christians acknowledge their sin,[5] but they do not persist in sinful habits.[6] Unbelievers, by contrast, sin consistently but often refuse to admit it. Sin (for many of them) is an archaic category. John has in mind a situation in which one believer sees another sinning. The NIV refers to “brother,” which translates the Greek word but, in John’s dialect, means any fellow believer. In this case, we are told to pray, and God will respond, giving them life in answer to the fellow Christian’s intercessory prayer.

The chief difficulty in the verse is that John says this intercession should be done only for “those whose sin does are not deadly to eternal life.” First, it is essential to note what John is not saying. He is not saying that prayer for “deadly to eternal life sins” is prohibited or that there is a level of sin beyond which prayer is useless. The NIV translation of verse sixteen obscures John’s interest to some extent, for he is only making his recommendation for “sin [that] is not deadly to eternal life.” He is silent about the other. But what are these two types of sin? The “deadly to eternal life sin” could refer to physical illness and death.[7]

But this interpretation seems unlikely in the present passage, particularly since verse sixteen says God will give the sinner life. This life must be eternal; if it were physical, John should extend it to those other “mortal” sins, the very thing he does not do. And those with “less deadly to eternal life sins” do not have their physical lives in jeopardy in the first place.

A more helpful solution comes from the First Covenant’s distinction between unintentional and intentional sins. In the First Covenant, the temple sacrificial rituals only provided forgiveness for spontaneous or unconscious sins.[8] On the other hand, when someone sinned deliberately and willfully, the sinner was either exiled or killed.[9] This dual classification of sin persisted in Judaism into the Final Covenant period.[10] But the more difficult exegetical question lies one step further. What type of sin does John have in mind for Christians?[11] This must be explained before it is understood.

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) says that verse eighteen appears two ways in various translations because of a textual variant in the Greek manuscripts. The words translated as “God’s Son” are rendered as “the one born of God” in other versions, leaving the interpretation open that this could refer to the Anointed One or the Christian. If it means Christian, it signifies that believers must hold themselves securely and keep from sinning. The preferred reading is that God’s Son keeps the believer from sin.

Many commentators favor this reading because: (1) the first clause of this verse already mentions the believer who is born of God. (2) John consistently uses the perfect tense to describe the believer who has become a child of God,[12] while here the aorist is used, and (3) there is little or no security in the fact that believers must keep themselves secure. Instead, God’s Son securely holds believers, helping them not to make sinning a routine and keeping them away from the evil one (meaning Satan). Christians do sin on occasions, but they ask God to forgive them and continue serving Him. God has freed believers from their slavery to Satan, and He keeps them safe from Satan’s continued attacks.

Unfortunately, the rest of a godless society does not have a Christian’s freedom to obey God. Unless unbelievers come to the Anointed One in faith, they have no choice but to follow Satan. There is no middle ground; either people belong to God and obey Him, or they live under Satan’s control.[13]

A scholar who truly inspires Christian missionaries, Daniel L. Akin (1957) finds that the Apostle John makes three powerful affirmations in verse eighteen that assure us once again of victory over our sinful tendencies:

First, “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning.” Sin is no longer the pattern of their lives. John is confirming the purity of our lives, not perfection, something he addressed earlier.[14] Future glorification (perfection) impacts present sanctification (practice).

Second, “For God’s Son holds them securely,” We find this reference to Jesus as Protector emphasized in the Holman Christian Standard Bible’s translation. We do not stay pure ourselves, Jesus keeps us. This is a theme repeated several times in the Final Covenant.

And third, “The evil one cannot touch them.”[15] The word “touch” has the idea of grabbing hold of with the intent to harm. Satan may ambush us and tempt us with idols, friends who have fallen away, fleshly enticements, and worldly allurements, but because of the Anointed One’s power he cannot keep us in his grasp [16]

With a classical thinking approach to understanding the scriptures, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) makes the point that in verse eighteen, the first of three impressive and effective consecutive references to the fact that “we know that[17] follows naturally from what has just been saying. John speaks for the last time about the problem of sin and sinning. We know that no one born of God lives for sin’s sake. The first and second instances of “we know that” in verses eighteen and nineteen appear, as does the statement in verse thirteen without the support of introductory conjunctions such as “but,” “now,” or “and.”

John’s rhetorically stylistic feature of not using conjunctions is for the sake of serious expression. Thus, he extols and exhorts those certainties of the faith that can and must, in the end, be known. The first of three references in verses eighteen to twenty-one are to those who are (born) “of God.” They contrast sharply with a final reference to the one who “lives for the sake of sin.” In no way is sin “the overriding characteristic of a believer’s life.” Instead, those who come to be united with us,[18] or come so that they, like we, might have God as our Father who keeps the Anointed One’s siblings safe and secure in His loving, all-powerful embrace.[19]

In his unorthodox Unitarian way, Duncan Heaster (1967) agrees that the One born of God does not sin but guards those who believe in Him, and the evil one cannot touch them. The One begotten of God was the Lord Jesus; the “evil one,” the devil [Satan], both of the flesh and the systemic Jewish opposition to Him did not touch Him. The prince of this world had no power over the Lord,[20] who remained untouched by the temptations of the devil fabricated in the wilderness. But all believers have been born of God by allowing the Spirit to birth them.[21]

This active process of the Spirit means that while they are still committing sins,[22] they do not continue in the life given over to sin, for the Spirit changes and cleanses them. We are kept from falling, but we must also “keep ourselves” there must be some willing responses from our side. The Spirit does not zap a person and force them to transformation and salvation against their will and volition.[23]

Bright seminarian Karen H. Jobes (b. 1968) notes that having just taught, on the one hand, that sin covered by the Anointed One’s atonement does not disqualify a believer from eternal life, the Apostle John now reminds his readers that sin is utterly incompatible with new life in the Anointed One. While it is true that people genuinely born of God cannot commit the sin deadly to eternal life, John does not give license to anyone who thinks they may go on sinning with impunity so that grace might increase.[24] Thinking along those lines is characteristic of those who have not been born of God. It is such erroneous thinking that John refuted[25] that sin is not a serious issue.

However, using two different forms of the same verb, “born of,” may indicate a distinction that allows two considerations of persons. It occurs first as a perfect passive participle to refer to the believer or as an aorist passive, which most interpreters take as a reference to Jesus the Anointed One. Perhaps John suggests the shared nature that reborn Christians have with the sinless man, Jesus the Anointed One. In this reading, John reassures his readers that they are safe because the Anointed One protects them. While the powers of evil may tempt, entice, and otherwise influence the believer, even to the point of lapses into sin, the evil one cannot take hold of a child of God to remove them from the light and life and drag them back into darkness and death.[26]

A skilled sermonizer, David Legge (b. 1969) speaks of the certainty of eternal life found in verse eighteen: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin.” God guards those birthed by Him, and the wicked one cannot touch them. Victory over sin is another certainty we can have if we are God’s children. It doesn’t mean we’ll never fall, and it certainly does not mean that we’ll not struggle with temptation – perhaps all the more because of it – but we will know victory and ought to know it.[27]

5:19 We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.


Jesus told His followers that the time would come when Satan, the ruler of this world, would be dethroned and sent into exile. But until then, he still holds power and must be considered a force against God and His children.[28] So even Jesus admitted that His time for ministry here on earth was running out because the chief of this godless world was about to attack.[29] So if any believer gets scared because it looks like the prince of this world may win out, don’t be afraid because a godless society’s ruler has already been indicted and will be tried and convicted.[30] Thus, the Apostle John offers his ninth test, the Test of Antichrist.

So, why worry? Simply because if people take their eyes off of Jesus and focus on Satan, the fascinating god of ignorance because they think he’ll give them what they want, then they won’t have to try so hard to believe a Truth they can’t see. The problem is that the glittering display of worldly amusement has blinded them from seeing the sparkling glory of God’s message of salvation that illuminates the darkness through the Anointed One.

But, of course, once you see how unique the Gospel we preach is about the glory of the Anointed One, that’s the best portrait of God you’ll ever see.[31] But is this hypnotic experience under the devil’s spell only for specific individuals? No! Paul told the Ephesians that they once went along with the crowd and were just like all the others, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air, who is at work right now in the hearts of those who are against the Lord.[32]

If the Apostle John had any worries, they all disappeared after he revealed things to come. He tells us that he saw the great Dragon – the ancient Serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, the one who led the whole earth astray – get thrown out, and all his Angels thrown out with him crashing to earth. But just as Jesus had the Father send the Holy Spirit to continue the work of His Son, so Lucifer raised a strange beast that looked like a leopard but had bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth, rising out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns and ten crown upon its horns. And written on each head were blasphemous names, each defying and insulting God.[33]

But his terror didn’t last long. John says that he saw an Angel descending out of Heaven. Who carried the key to the bottomless pit and a huge chain. The Angel grabbed the Dragon, threw him in, and locked the door.[34] He remained locked up for a thousand years. It seemed that Satan didn’t learn his lesson and immediately began to prepare for another war.[35] God didn’t reveal this to John to scare people into heaven. Instead, it encourages believers that while sinners belong to the devil, they are God’s children. The Apostle John expressed this concept of God’s ownership when he wrote that for those who accepted Jesus as the Anointed One, He gave them the right to become God’s children. So, they became children of God, but not in how babies are usually born. It was not because of any human desire or plan. Instead, they were born of God.[36]

[1] Cf. 1 John 5:15

[2] Ibid. 2:29, See John 3:11; 21:24

[3] Lieu, Judith: A New Testament Library, I, II, 7 III John, op. cit., pp. 229-230

[4] 1 John1:7–10; 2:12; 3:4–5, 8–9; 4:10

[5] Ibid 1:8; 2:1-3

[6] Ibid. 3:6-9

[7] Cf. Numbers 18:22; Deuteronomy 22:26; Isaiah 22:14; Acts of the Apostles 5:1–11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:29-30

[8] Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15-18; Numbers 15:27-31; Psalm 19:13

[9] Numbers 15:30-31; Deuteronomy 17:12

[10] Cf. Qumran, 1QS 5:11-12

[11] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 215-216

[12] 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:4, 18a

[13] Burton, Bruce B., 1,2,3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary) op. cit., pp. 118-119

[14] 1 John 3:2-3

[15] Cf. 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 1:24

[16] Akin, Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (the Anointed One-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[17] 1 John 5:15a; 19a; 20a

[18] See 1 John 4:2; 2 John

[19] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 580-581

[20] John 14:30

[21] Ibid. 3:3-5

[22] 1 John 1:10

[23] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 80

[24] Cf. Romans 6:1

[25] 1 John 1:5-10

[26] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., pp. 237-238

[27] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1 John, op. cit., Sermon 16

[28] John 12:31

[29] Ibid. 14:30

[30] Ibid. 16:11

[31] 2 Corinthians 4:4

[32] Ephesians 2:2

[33] Revelation 13:1-2

[34] Ibid. 20:1-3

[35] Ibid. 20:7-8

[36] Ibid. 1:12-13

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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

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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

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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

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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

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By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXX) 04/26/23

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.

This was how King David looked at it when he went to God in prayer and told Him that, unlike most people, if he broke any of the commandments, he did not do so like those who do it because they are cruel and evil.[1]  This gave David the courage to pledge to God, “I will be careful about what I say. I will not let my tongue get me in trouble. I will keep my mouth closed when I am around wicked people.[2] It is also why the Psalmist could say, “I have avoided every opportunity that would lead to doing something wrong, so I could be in compliance with Your word.[3] And David’s advice to his son Solomon included this gem, “Above all, be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.”[4]

This is only possible when the believer stays connected to the Vine, as we see in Jesus’ teaching in John 15.  The Apostle Paul preached on this same theme, but he was asked whether or not it made any difference if a converted believer sinned or not.  Absolutely, says Paul; it makes a big difference. There is no such thing as taking advantage of grace. “Why should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?”[5] God desires to move us beyond the point where being disobedient and rebellious crosses our minds, and He has given us the Holy Spirit to accomplish this.

Will we have temptations?  Yes!  But our immediate answer should always be, “No!”  The devil may tempt us to do wrong, but God never entices us to do right.  To commit wrongdoing is not part of our new spiritual nature; doing what’s right is the core of our reborn spiritual nature.  However, when we miss the mark in being and doing God’s will for our lives, it does not result in a quick judgment and being cut off from His presence.  Back in the first chapter, John already said, But if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.”[6]

In this Epistle and his Gospel, John is the faithful advocate of the Anointed One’s Sonship.  Although verse seven may be dubious in authenticity to some, the two heavenly personas of Jesus the Son and God the Father are  quite conspicuous.  If this is not so, then Jesus had dual personalities, for only such a one could have prayed the prayer in John 17.  All this gives John the insight to inform the believer by staying connected to the Anointed One.

At some time in your life, you must have heard or studied about our body’s immune system. Medical Journals tell us that the immune system is composed of many interdependent cell types that collectively protect the body from bacterial, parasitic, fungal, and viral infections and the growth of tumor cells. In addition, many of these cell types have specialized functions. For example, the cells of the immune system can engulf bacteria, kill parasites or tumor cells, or kill viral-infected cells. Often, these cells depend on the T-helper (known as lymphocytes), a subset for activation signals in the form of secretions formally known as cytokines, lymphokines, or interleukins.

The purpose of the immune system is to stop the disease before it can spread and infect the rest of the body.  On the spiritual level, this is how the immune system that the Anointed One brings into our lives works.  Activated by the T-helper (known as the Holy Spirit), we receive activation signals (called convictions) that tell us that sinful ideas have invaded our hearts and minds.  Keeping our spiritual immune system strong is necessary and is done because of our connection to the Vine Jesus, the Anointed One who supplies the nutrients through the Word to make it strong.  No wonder John goes on to say their spiritual immune system is robust in the Anointed One.Of course, it doesn’t mean that the devil won’t try.  But he won’t be successful if Jesus is in charge and control of our lives; if He has first place in our thinking and actions, words and deeds. 

John told us that all unrighteousness is sin. You would think that among the faithful, this ought to be an unquestionable truth, that whatever is contrary to God’s Law is sin, and in its mortal nature; for where there is a transgression of the Law, there is sin and death. But this terrifying truth brings with it a word of encouragement. For if all unrighteousness without exception is sin, it follows that not every sin is deadly to eternal life. It is incredible that anyone would think that the slightest departure from righteousness should involve eternal damnation.

Therefore, the writer of Hebrews warns against committing a sin that has no possibility of repentance.[7] He turned to the First Covenant sacrifice system after realizing that Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice.  There is no possibility of repentance if one operates on First Covenant sacrifices because that prefers the real thing to the prototype.  However, Christians can commit a sin leading to premature physical death.  Prayer will not change this fact.

John does not want to be misunderstood by his statement in the previous verse. He is not saying there is no need to pray for the person who sins deadly to eternal life.  On the other hand, he does not want to minimize the seriousness of violating a holy God or discourage Christians from praying for all carnal Christians. Sin violates God’s objective and absolute standards for life.  “Unrighteousness” is the underlying principle for the commission of sin.  Unrighteousness is injustice – the desire to break out of God’s will, authority, and objective standards for right. Any “unrighteousness” or lawlessness against God’s standards for life is a sin.  There is no exception – “All unrighteous sin” is an occasion for intercessory prayer except for sins deadly to eternal life.

On the other hand, there is a sin “that is not deadly to eternal life.”  Intercessory prayer will change this situation, but not the sin deadly to eternal life of the previous verse.  Spiritual Christians should pray for carnal Christians who have not committed the sin leading to death.  Intercessory prayer is vital to deliver the carnal Christian from divine discipline.  Unconfessed sin always invites discipline. However, there is a limit to God’s tolerance of immorality in daily conduct.

So, how do we apply this to our lives? Since most sins do not lead to physical death, we can pray for most carnal Christians who do not commit sin deadly to eternal life. God makes distinctions in types of sin among His people. There is a classification of sin that leads to physical death, and then there is a class of sin that does not lead to corporal death. For example, Christian teachers have a greater responsibility than non-teachers regarding sin.[8]

Although God is patient and merciful, His tolerance is limited.  God takes responsibility for who and what we are.  He will not let His people get away with what non-Christians practice. He gives us so much rope, and then, like a dog, we reach the end of our rope and jerk up short. God loves us too much to let us get away with spiritual suicide. He will not allow us to play fast and loose with a godless society too long.   


This verse has comments, interpretations, and insights of the Early Church Fathers, Medieval Thinkers, Reformation Theologians, Revivalist Teachers, Reformed Scholars, and Modern Commentators.

With great assurance, early ecclesiastical teacher Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD) insists that when someone does what is righteous, their overcoming power comes from God. It is also true that righteousness and evil cannot live together. Therefore, it is clear that as long as a person does such things, they are righteous and do not sin. But because this ability comes by grace and is not natural, John adds that the right living person must watch out so that evil will not touch them.[9]

With a studious monk’s spiritual insight, Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) is convinced that anyone born of God does not commit a mortal sin. Fatal wrongdoings are understood to mean unforgiven sins which retain their force right up to the moment of death, and those born of God do not commit that kind of error. King David, for example, confessed to having committed a mortal sin, for how else can we regard such things as adultery and murder? But David was also born of God, and because he belonged to that fellowship, he did not sin up to his day of death because he was regarded worthy of receiving forgiveness after his repentance.[10]

Respected Reformation writer, Matthew Poole (1624-1679) finds in verse eighteen an advantage for the regenerate, who, by the seed remaining in them,[11] are furnished with a self-preserving principle, with the exercise of which they may expect that co-operation of a gracious Divine influence by which they will be kept, so as that wicked one, the great destroyer of souls, will not mortally touch them, to make them sin deadly to eternal life.[12]

A young independent thinking theological sage, Hugh Binning (1627-1653) observes that simple idiots and blind worldlings go on headlong into sin and dread nothing, although they are punished.[13] Most grievous plagues, punishments, and all manner of unhappiness are meant to inhibit their sinful lifestyle. Therefore, those that keep themselves pure and clean assist in saving their soul. They can pray with Job, “I would never follow their advice.”[14]

But, because their “good” is not in their hands, their candle’s flame is often extinguished. And they resolve with Jacob not to join their secret meetings or participate in their evil plans. They have killed people out of anger and crippled animals for fun.[15] And as the Psalmist declares, “Get rid of the proud who laugh at what is right, and trouble will leave with them. All arguments and insults will end. Love a pure heart and kind words, and the king will be your friend. The Lord watches over truth-tellers and opposes those who try to deceive others.”[16] [17]

In his fiery manner, John Flavel (1627-1691) believes that we all must be in opposition to sin, as the Apostle John implies in verse eighteen. But there must also be love for God’s people.[18] Conscious respect for both duties exist in the new creature created in the Anointed One’s righteousness and holiness.[19] There is perseverance in the ways of God and victory over all temptations, “for whosoever is born of God overcomes a godless society.”[20] [21]

From his viewpoint, William Burkitt (1650-1703) believes we are all assured that sincere Christians, begotten, and born of God, do not commit this sin deadly to eternal life, namely, apostasy from Christianity to the heathen idolatry. Instead, they protect themselves from the contamination of idolatry, by which the devil seduced a significant part of humanity.

It may be added that those born of God are partakers of divine nature and do not sin; that is, they do not allow any sin to have dominion over them but take care to preserve themselves, through the assistance of divine grace, from Satan’s deadly to eternal life wound. As the Apostle John says in verse eighteen, they refuse to let Satan touch them to leave an impression of his devilish spirit upon them.[22]

An Anglican priest opposing the monarchy of Church and State in favor of a constitutional parliamentary system, Thomas Pyle (1674-1756), feels that the Apostle John is establishing a standard for believers to live by when dealing with sins in their lives. John puts it this way: “Every willful offense against God or our neighbor is like breaking the tablets of divine law and deserves death.” But as we know, there were degrees of violations under the Mosaic Law; some were, and others were not, punishable by immediate death, all but those covered by sacrificial atonement.

So likewise, under the Gospel dispensation, as long as there are remains of true principles and dispositions and any hopes of true repentance, there is the hope of recovery and a promise of pardon. But, in the meantime, no faithful Christian is without fault and is subject to falling into a desperate degree of sin or willful backsliding from service to the Anointed One to the slavery of Satan.[23]

A very popular preacher in his time, Leonard Howard (1699-1767), who wrote the commentary in the Royal Bible in 1761, says that by this “sin deadly to eternal life,” we are to understand apostasy from the Christian religion to idolatry, as appears from the caution given in verse twenty-one, “keep yourselves from idols;” which has no manner of connection with what precedes it, unless we understand the “sin deadly to eternal life” in this sense: Or, if with others, we call it the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” it amounts to the very same thing; for what is that sin but a renouncing of Christianity, and denying the truth of the Christian faith, after illumination and conviction by the Holy Spirit, and maliciously persecuting those who profess it.[24]

With all the Apostle John’s themes in mind, John Wesley (1703-1791) says that we are reminded that through faith, we are saved from the power of sin and its guilt. So, the Apostle John declares, “You know that Jesus came to take away people’s sins. There is no sin in the Anointed One.”[25] Again, “Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you the wrong way. The Anointed One always did what was right.”[26] So to be good like the Anointed One, you must do what is right. “Those who are God’s children do not continue to sin because the new life God gave them stays in them. They cannot keep sinning because they have become children of God.”[27]  John again reminds us of this in verse eighteen.[28]

With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800) refers to the Apostle John’s Gospel, where Jesus said, “You don’t need to hold on to me! I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But tell my followers this: ‘I am going back to my Father and your Father. I am going back to my God and your God.’”[29] Moreover, to touch signifies “to hurt[30] and even “to destroy.”[31] [32] Skillfully, John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) agrees with the Apostle John that every disposition, thought, word, or deed, contrary to that equity prescribed by God’s law, is sinful. Still, every sin is not an unpardonable transgression. Nevertheless, those regenerated by God’s Spirit, on account of the Spirit’s continued indwelling and influence in their soul and the eternal nature of that grace implanted in them, and through their watchfulness against and hearty detestation of sin, have effectual security against being ever seduced into that unpardonable sin.[33]

[1] Psalm 17:4

[2] Ibid. 39:1

[3] Ibid. 119:101

[4] Proverbs 4:23

[5] Romans 6:1

[6] 1 John 1:9

[7] Hebrews 6:6; 10:26-27

[8] James 3:1

[9] Didymus the Blind: Ancient Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.) op cit., Vol XI, p. 227

[10] Bede the Venerable: Ancient Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.) op cit., Vol XI, p. 228

[11] 1 John 3:9

[12] Poole, Matthew: Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition

[13] 1 John 5:5

[14] Job 21:16-17

[15] Genesis 49:6

[16] Psalm 22:10-11

[17] Binning, Hugh: Case of Conscience, Section V, p. 516

[18] 1 John 4:7

[19] Ephesians 4:24

[20] 1 John 5:4

[21] Flavel, John: The Method of Grace: How the Spirit Works, op. cit., Ch. 25, p. 368

[22] Burkitt, William: Expository Notes, op. cit., Vol. II., p. 739

[23] Pyle, Thomas: A Paraphrase of the Epistles of the New Testament (1725), op. cit., p. 403

[24] Howard, Leonard: The Royal Bible, Vol. II, op. cit., loc. cit.

[25] 1 John 3:5

[26] Ibid. 3:7

[27] Ibid. 3:9

[28] Wesley, John, The Works of: Vol. 5, Sermon 1, Salvation by Faith, Preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, to the Faculty, Staff, and Students, on Sunday, June 18, 1738, p. 69

[29] John 20:17

[30] John 9:19; 2 Samuel 14:10; 1 Chronicles 16:22

[31] Job 1:11

[32] Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, p. 124

[33] Brown of Haddington, John: Self-Interpreting Bible, N. T., Vol. IV., p. 507

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By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXIX) 04/25/23

5:17 Doing wrong is always a sin. But there is sin that does not lead to eternal death.

The question then arises: what is the difference between sinning in a way that is not deadly to eternal life and a sin that is deadly to eternal life? John’s readers apparently understood the contrast since John did not elaborate further. Breaking God’s law is sin; that is, not living right is sin – including the moral sins committed by believers.[1] The sin deadly to eternal includes deliberately denying that Jesus is the Anointed Son of God that deliberately rejects Jesus as the Anointed One, destroying faith and love. John did not forbid prayer for the one who disregards the Anointed One, nor did he encourage it.[2]

A scholar who truly inspires Christian missionaries, Daniel L. Akin (1957), in verses sixteen and seventeen, the Apostle John gets specific regarding prayer. In the previous two verses, the subject was “imploring.”  Now, these two verses are about “intercession.” The issue is seeing someone in sin. In the original Greek text of verses sixteen to eighteen, the words hamartanō and hamartia (“sin”) appear seven times. But verse sixteen is one of the most difficult verses to interpret in all of Scripture. The best approach is to be humble, correct, and wise in translating it. It involves sins that bring spiritual death and those that do not.

When praying for those whose spiritual discipline does not lead to spiritual death, it is for restoration. When it comes to saying prayers for those who died spiritually, the Apostle John says he has no comment because he doubts it would do any good. Such mortal sins include: “Deliberate sin,”[3]Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,”[4] and “Total rejection of the Gospel.”[5] Here we can see that John is saying that for those who willfully, firmly, and irrevocably reject the biblical teaching about Jesus’ atoning death and life-giving resurrection, praying for such a person is futile and useless; it won’t change a thing.[6]

With a classical thinking approach to understanding the scriptures, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) states that in verse seventeen, the Apostle John asserts that, while all sin is a deadly poison to eternal life, thankfully, not all sin results in spiritual death John is talking about. The second of three parenthetical references to sin[7] here speaks in the broadest possible terms of “all unrighteousness.” Every unrighteous sin threatens the life that is ours in the righteous Anointed one.[8] But with God, there is forgiveness.[9]

Therefore, with Him, our sin is not deadly to eternal life because there are forgivable sins. John’s “unforgivable sin” is a hard-hitting and attention-getting way of saying, “Beware, this way leads to darkness and the death of eternal life.”[10] The last of three parenthetical references to “sin[11] marks an end to John’s detour around verse thirteen. Those who heed the apostle, who believe in the name [Yeshua, meaning “Savior”] of God’s Son, who know that theirs is the gift of the life of the age to come joyfully ask for themselves and others – for they know God gladly hears when the sin is “not deadly to eternal life.” [12]

Great expositional teacher David Guzik (1961) admits that what the Apostle John says here in verses sixteen and seventeen is a problematic concept. Still, we have an example where the Apostle Paul says that among the Christians in Corinth, some died because of their disgraceful conduct at the Lord’s Supper (“Many in your group are sick and weak, and many have died.”)[13] This death came not as a condemnation but as a corrective judgment (“When the Lord judges us, He punishes us to show us the right way. He does this so that we will not be condemned along with a godless society.”)[14]

Apparently, a believer can sin to the point where God believes it is just best to have them rest in peace, probably because they have in some way compromised their testimony so significantly that they should leave for their rest early so they don’t jeopardize their soul’s salvation. However, it is certainly presumptuous to think this about every case of an untimely physical death of a believer or to use it as an enticement to suicide for the guilt-ridden Christian. Our lives are in God’s hands, and if He sees fit to send one of His children to the grave, that is fine.[15]

An expert in highlighting the crucial part of a biblical message, Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) comments on the Apostle John’s statement that there is a sin that leads to death. He is not saying that we should pray about that. On the contrary, this statement implies that there are situations in which one is prohibited from praying, a prohibition that seems difficult to comprehend. But it fits well with John’s understanding of judgment and a specific kind of prayer. But how does one “observe” another Christian sinning? Does this mean that it is a public or visible sin? Is the elder apostle referring only to sins one can witness, such as actions, rather than thoughts?

As is typical of the Johannine literature, “seeing” probably means “perceiving” or “understanding” John does not explain how one “perceives” a fellow Christian as sinning. Nevertheless, the proper response is to pray for that person. Presumably, that person has also repented and asked for forgiveness, for if the person who is sinning and is prayed for is indeed a spiritual brother or sister, then in John’s view, they would also be characterized by confession of sin and petition for pardon. Those who do not acknowledge their sins to God are not children of God. [16]

Prophetically speaking, Ken Johnson (1965) takes a different view. He suggests that we should always pray for sinners to repent and be converted as well as for Christians who stumble into sin. However, we should not waste time praying for them once someone dies because their fate is sealed. No one has a second chance to be saved after death. Paul mentions some who practiced the error of baptizing the dead.[17] This Gnostic belief of baptizing for the deceased had been around for a long time.[18]

As a lover of God’s Word, Peter Pett (1966) indicates that the Apostle John made it clear at the beginning he knew that some Christians would continue to sin. Indeed, he insisted that all Christians recognize that this failing in them would continue.[19] But they were not “sins deadly to eternal life,” for they could come to Him in the Light and be cleansed.[20] Thus, he says, we should be observant of our spiritual brother or sister’s failings as well as our own. Not to gloat or to be self-satisfied but to pray for their restoration.

We may be disappointed in seeing a fellow Christian who is entrapped by sin finding release difficult. For such a believer, we are to pray to God, and God will grant us their restoration. He promises that He will accordingly restore such. God will give them life rather than eternal death without the Anointed One they would have deserved. John is stressing our responsibility to pray for our spiritual brothers and sisters in the Anointed One, especially in the church we are members of.

The early church had an all-inclusive responsibility for one another. In a sense, of course, all sin is potentially “deadly to eternal life.”[21] But for such, there is forgiveness available in the Anointed One. Unfortunately, there is an “unforgivable sin” because those involved have so hardened their hearts that they are permanently closed to the Anointed One. They refuse to believe. They see what should convince them of the truth and refuse to accept it. They invent false arguments to avoid conversion.

Finally, such becomes an attitude of heart that nothing can change. Their opinions have solidified in their hearts so that they cannot change. They have put themselves beyond repentance. John is here concerned that we direct our prayers wisely. Our spiritual brothers and sisters in fellowship need our prayers, and our prayers will be effective for them because their ears are open to God’s voice. But some have hardened themselves and for whom our prayers will probably not be effective. Ultimately, we cannot carry the whole world’s weight.[22]

In his unorthodox Unitarian way, Duncan Heaster (1967) finds the Apostle John urging them to accept that although sin is sin, not all sins lead to death; and the reason they don’t is that other believers can pray for the sinners, and they will receive the gift of life, the Spirit, the life of Jesus, to strengthen them. So, our responsibility to pray for others is enormous.[23]

Bright seminarian Karen H. Jobes (b. 1968) sees that in verses sixteen and seventeen, the Apostle John instructs his readers about what they are to do when they see a Christian spiritual brother or sister sinning a sin that does not lead to death. First, they are to pray for that sinner. John recognized that some of his readers would sin in various ways and put some responsibility on the congregation’s members for the Church’s spiritual health. His appeal to “anyone” to intercede is remarkable because mediation between humans and the divine world was limited primarily to priests and prophets.

This is perhaps an expression of John’s belief in the “priesthood” of all believers.[24] Is John being hard-hearted by instructing prayer only for those whose sin does not lead to death? At the time of John’s writing, he was likely referring to those who left his church(es) as committing the sin that leads to death.[25] They denied that Jesus is the Anointed One who came in the flesh, refused to believe that He came by water and blood, and thereby rejected the significance of His atoning death.

In other words, they put themselves beyond the fellowship of apostolic Christian belief, so John is focusing his pastoral attention on strengthening the fellowship of those who remained faithful. There is no point in interceding for the sins of those who persist in beliefs about Jesus that prevent them from receiving God’s forgiveness. John simply says, “I am not saying that you should pray about the sin that leads to death.” He does not forbid praying for those who have left the church and are still in need of God’s transforming grace, but that is not the situation he is addressing here.[26]

A skilled sermonizer, David Legge (b. 1969), mentions that the first certainty of eternal life is found in verse thirteen. It is the certainty of the assurance of the possession of eternal life, knowing that you’re born of God, knowing that you are saved and have partaken of salvation that the Anointed One purchased for you through faith. Then the second certainty that he mentions is found in verses fourteen to seventeen, which relates to the assurance of answered prayer. One evidence that we are born of God is the reason He hears us, and verse fourteen is essential: “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.[27]

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.


The Apostle Paul gives a good reason for the Apostle John speaking this way. Paul told the Roman believers that God’s Spirit communicates with our spirit and confirms that we really are His children.[28] Paul was encouraged to notify the Corinthians that he lived by the same principles.  He said, “I’m so glad to report with complete honesty that I have been transparent and sincere in all my efforts. I depended on the Lord for His help and not on my human skills and wisdom alone. That is how I’ve conducted myself in front of worldly people, and especially to you.”[29]

Paul also communicated from prison, where he was incarcerated for Jesus’ sake, by telling young Timothy, “My living and working for the Lord is the reason I’m in all this trouble. But I am not ashamed and have no regrets. I am sure that He is more than able to safely guard all that I have given Him until the day of His return.”[30]

But Paul couldn’t say the same of others who rejected his message from God. He told the Roman believers that since they didn’t bother with God, God quit worrying about them and let them run loose. As a result, their lives became full of wickedness and sin, greed and hate, envy, and murder, fighting and lying, bitterness and gossip. They became backstabbers, haters of God, rude, proud, and boastful. They thought up new ways to sin and rejected all parental authority. They foolishly broke every promise and were heartless without pity. They thoroughly understood that they would suffer God’s death penalty for these crimes, yet they went right ahead and did them anyway and encouraged others to do them, too.[31] As the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.”[32]

After all, the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus was the one who gave His life to rescue us from drowning in sin. It was God’s design to keep us from being swallowed up by this evil world.[33] When a person once born again still goes on sinning, the Apostle James says it’s like cheating on God, having an adulterous affair with a godless society. As such, you become alienated from God. So, if a person’s aim is to enjoy the immoral pleasures of the unsaved world, they cannot also be God’s closest friend.[34]

John has a special meaning behind this statement. The system of sacrifice and stoning governed all the mortal and moral sins of the First Covenant. But now that the last and final sacrifice has been offered by the Anointed One on the cross, there is no need for sinning to continue because the forgiver is living within the believer.  Will we still make mistakes? Yes!  But they can be corrected immediately when the Holy Spirit convicts us, and we ask God’s forgiveness straightaway. That’s because we are God’s children asking forgiveness from our heavenly Father. Let me put it another way. If a neighbor’s son or some vagrant runaway breaks out your window, the law would rule your reaction. But if it was your son who broke the window, you would respond according to the dictates of your heart.

[1] See 1 John 1:7, 9; 3:4

[2] Barton, Bruce B., 1,2,3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary, op. cit., pp. 116-118

[3] Acts of the Apostles 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:30

[4] Cf. Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29

[5] 1 John 2:19

[6] Akin, Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (the Anointed One-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[7] See 1 John 5:16c, 17b

[8] 1 John 2:29; 3:7, 12

[9] Ibid. 1:9; 2:1

[10] Luke 11:35; Cf. Proverbs 7:24-27

[11] See also 1 John 5:16c-17a

[12] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 578

[13] 1 Corinthians 11:30

[14] Ibid. 11:32

[15] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, 1,2 & 3 John & Jude, op. cit., pp. 99-100

[16] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 143-144

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:29

[18] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 84

[19] 1 John 1:8-10

[20] Ibid. 1:7

[21] Ezekiel 18:20

[22] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, 1 John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[23] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 80

[24] Cf. 1 Peter 2:9

[25] 1 John 2:19

[26] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., pp. 233, 236-237

[27] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1 John, op. cit., Sermon 16

[28] Romans 8:16

[29] 2 Corinthians 1:12

[30] 2 Timothy 1:12

[31] Romans 1:28-32

[32] The term misery loves company is a proverb that appears in the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), which reads in Latin: Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris (“Solace of the wretched will have companions of pain.”). It is often ascribed to John Ray (1627-1705), an English naturalist who collected English Proverbs.

[33] Galatians 1:4

[34] James 4:4

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By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXVIII) 04/24/23

5:17 Doing wrong is always a sin. But there is sin that does not lead to eternal death.

How are we to interpret John’s advice? Surely, we are to take from it a reminder that we have, in fact, become so unconcerned about the sins of our fellow Christians that we have ceased even to think about praying for them. John’s words challenge us about the quality of our intercession for others. If it is out of place for us to pray publicly about other people’s sins, at least we should be more concerned for their spiritual welfare and pray positively for it in public.

At the same time, in our private prayers, we may also intercede more specifically for those who stumble into sin.[1] At the same time, we may note that while John says that God will certainly answer prayer for the believer who does not sin to death, He does not rule out the possibility of answered prayer for the person who commits a sin that does lead to death. Suppose we have in mind a case where, to our limited view, such a prayer seems unlikely to be answered. In that case, we may recall what Jesus said when a man refused what looked like his only chance of salvation – “For mankind, it is impossible, but not for God; anything is possible for God.”[2] [3]

As a seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) finds the elderly Apostle saying that Satan, the unrighteous one, is opposed to Jesus, the righteous Anointed One, and those born of God, who live uprightly.[4] To call unrighteousness a sin is an amplification similar to “Sin is lawlessness.”[5] That term is identical to the man of lawlessness and the mystery of lawlessness.[6]

The identification of sin this way has much in common with verse seventeen. By referring to every unrighteous act as a sin, John attends to social justice issues and does not allow any escape from being assessed as a sin. Nevertheless, John returns, saying, “There is a sin that is not deadly to eternal life.” The return of this theme creates a rough edge for the connection with what the Apostle Paul said but neatly ties up the discussion here in verses sixteen and seventeen.[7]

Ministry & Missions Overseer Muncia Walls (1937) calls the Apostle John’s words a simple explanation of sin. John said that sin was a transgression of the law.[8] Therefore, every act contrary to God’s will becomes a sin to the person committing such an act. Sin has been characterized as “missing the mark.” (Greek verb hamartia)[9] To miss the mark of the ideal lifestyle God would have us live[10] is to come short of the goals God has set for our lives.[11]

Again, John informs his readers that there is a sin that is not deadly to eternal life. Just because a person may sin does not mean they die. John explained in chapters one and two that there was a solution for any sin committed: confess our sin to a merciful God who will forgive us. While none should intentionally sin, they will slip up in their walk through this world. There is one thing that would be worse than sinning: to fail to confess it and ask forgiveness from the Lord. It is terrible to fall, but it is worse to refuse to get up.[12]

As an articulate spokesman for the Reformed Faith movement, James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) points out that after the Apostle John indicated the nature of true prayer and stated the confidence in prayer that every Christian should possess, John now moves on to the content of prayer in answer to the question; “What requests should the believer bring before God?” The first response is nearly always personal, which no doubt indicates our limited understanding of this privilege.

Indeed, we think of our need for food and clothing, a good job (or a better one), our desire for a spouse, the elimination of a vexing problem, and other things; in other words, we think of ourselves. It is somewhat of a surprise, therefore, to find that John does not think selfishly but of others and that, as a result, his first specific example of prayer is intercession.

John’s encouragement to pray for others is based on a great promise: the promise that God will hear and “give… life… [for] those whose sin is not deadly to eternal life.” In addition, John often spoke of the need to pursue righteousness as evidence that the individual involved is truly God’s child. But although the individual Christian must and will pursue righteousness, they will, nevertheless, sin and become entangled in it from time to time.

What then? Christians should confess their sin and turn from it, knowing that they have an advocate in Jesus the Anointed One and that the Father is faithful and just to forgive them based on the Anointed One’s sacrifice and continuing intercession.[13] But it is often the case, when they are in this state, that this is what Christians find hard to do.

So, now what? Should they be left to themselves to suffer the consequences of sinning? Not at all, says John. Rather, those who are spiritual should pray on their behalf, knowing that God will hear and respond when they pray that way for others.[14]

Expositor and systematic theologist Michael Eaton (1942-2017) remembers that the Apostle John does not want believers to be over-friendly toward false teachers. His urging them to pray only has “those who sin but whose sin is not deadly to eternal life” in mind. He is not asking them to pray for the Gnostics who encountered the truth in John’s ministry but rejected his Good News. Almost certainly, John has in mind gnostic heretics who deny the truth when he says, “There is a sin deadly to eternal life. I do not recommend that you pray for those who commit it.”

John wants them to feel sure about the possibility of restoration. The fact that John is serious concerning those who have rejected his message must not make the Christians at Ephesus think he is disappointed in them. But, on the other hand, John does not want anyone to feel wrong-doing is harmless because the Christians’ sins are “not deadly to eternal life.” So, he says: “All unrighteousness is sin, but there is a sin not deadly to eternal life.” His last word in this connection is a word of encouragement. For all sins other than rejecting Jesus, he lets them know there is forgiveness! [15]

After scrutinizing the Apostle John’s subject William Loader (1944) hears John expressing concern about believers who go astray. Within the context of prayer, John addresses the problem of what to do about fellow Christians who sin. Within this discussion, he distinguishes between a sin deadly to eternal life and a sin not deadly to eternal life. Before attempting to clarify the precise meaning of these terms, it will be helpful to hear what is said about them in verses sixteen and seventeen. This sheds important light on their meaning.

Then, John tells the readers that they should intercede for their fellow Christians who are committing a sin that is not deadly to eternal life. Already this raises several further questions. First, are they being asked to pray for the person who is in the act of committing a sin or for the person who has already sinned? If it were the latter, we might expect the prayer to be about forgiveness.

Confession of sin and assurance of forgiveness are themes early in this epistle.[16] But verse sixteen is formulated to suggest the former: prayer for someone sinning. We might then understand the request to be about helping the person to resist temptation and turn from sin. Although all wrongdoing is sin, John tells us in verse seventeen, not all sin is unforgivable.

Therefore, it is time to ask what is this sin deadly to eternal life? What can be so severe that John considers those engaged in to be removed from any hope of return? If we were to ask this question of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, which is greatly concerned with emphasizing the Anointed One’s role in interceding for them as they face temptation and struggle with suffering, the answer would be clear. It is the sin of apostasy.[17]

Similarly, the author of Hebrews tells us that Esau lost any chance of reversing his decision to forfeit his firstborn rights: “You remember that after Esau did this, he wanted to get his father’s blessing. He wanted that blessing so much that he cried. But his father refused to give him the blessing because Esau could find no way to change what he had done.”[18] For such people warns Hebrews, “If we continue sinning after we have learned the truth, then no other sacrifice will take away sins. All that is left for us is a fearful time of waiting for the judgment and the angry fire that will destroy those who live against God.”[19] [20]

Great Commission practitioner David Jackman (1945) notes that the sinning Christian, whose active life in the Anointed One is declining, though their sin is not deadly to eternal life, will be restored by God’s grace through the Christian church family’s prayers. They will be convicted by the Holy Spirit whom they were grieving, reestablished by a renewed repentance and faith, and restored to walking in the light with God. This is an excellent stimulus for the church to pray for the complete restoration of Christians who wander or “backslide.”

It is also an essential duty, for verse seventeen reminds us that all wrongdoing is sin. Sin matters because it destroys fellowship with God and between Christians. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense ‒ Jesus the Anointed Righteous One.”[21] And it is our task to speak to the same Father, through the Son, whenever we are aware that one of His children is wandering into sin. All the weight of the divine covenant commitment lies behind our expectation of faith that such a Christian will be restored. So, we must pray with boldness and confidence. [22]

After studying the context of this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) believes that the Gospel can persuade a faithful Christian to know that, though all sin is an expression of unrighteousness, it can no longer separate them from the LORD’s promise of an eternal home with Him. However, some taught (and still do to this day) that if a person of faith commits any sin, they are instantly declared unrighteous and have lost their salvation until they subsequently find a second forgiveness as a backslider at the altar. If they do not seek God’s forgiveness, they face eternal damnation with sinners. 

However, we find no such doctrine in the words or illustrations of the post-resurrection covenant with God. The First Covenant’s sacrificial system was simply an archetype, an example that would cause us to recognize the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Since the resurrection of Jesus, the sacrificial system is no longer needed. Forgiveness is found through faith in God, and the sacrifice of atonement paid by Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. Because of this, one is not going to lose their salvation through an act of sin. If this were possible, all people of faith would be without hope since our natural, self-centered spirit is always pressing us into thoughts and actions that fall short of God’s demand for perfection.[23]

A man who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) finds that verse seventeen rounds off the Apostle John’s teaching on this subject of sin. The statement “all wrongdoing is sin” (Greek adikia, “wrongdoing”) is the same word used in “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all adikia.[24] This verse shows that adikia is best understood as denoting specific evil deeds.

It is likely a blanket term for the transgressions that John addresses, whether they are deadly to eternal life or not. Sin brings spiritual death, and the wrongdoing that John points to is indeed sin. But John quickly adds, “there is sin that is not deadly to eternal life.” As grim and ugly as all sins are and granting that particular evil deeds can signal terminal opposition to God, there is also a sin that can be overcome through prayer, repentance, and renewed faith resulting in reform and restoration. Thus, John’s instruction ends on a cautionary but hopeful note.[25]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and Final Covenant writings, Colin G. Kruse (1950) states that in verse seventeen, the Apostle John reaffirms and reinforces the distinction he made between sins that are and sins that are not “deathly.” The highlighting of the difference between deadly to eternal life sins and those that are not, seems to assure John’s readers that although they may fall into sin from time to time, their sins do not lead to permanent spiritual death. John already emphasized that God forgives those who confess their sins and cleanses them from all unrighteousness or wrongdoing.[26]

With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) notes that various attempts to categorize sin in other traditions illustrate that it is wrong to expect perfection from every believer. Contradictory consequences often occur under different circumstances, and the dilemmas of living in this world challenge neat theological ideals. For example, the Apostle John may have expected his readers to easily identify situations where prayer was both possible and appropriate. Still, he may also have felt this would become obvious to them.

More importantly, the emphasis here is not on the inevitable consequences of the choices made by a member of the community, the sinner, but on the exercise by the community as a whole of the privileges of having God’s ear. Within the biblical tradition, individuals can act as intercessors before God for the people as a whole.[27] Here, in John’s epistle, that possibility is available to any Church community member. Also, as in those earlier examples, they may be forbidden to intercede because God is determined to let the punishment run its course.[28] [29]

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) points out that verses sixteen and seventeen describe the kind of petition God will answer. Because the believers are called to love one another, it follows that they ought to care enough to intercede with God if they see any fellow Christian sinning in a way that is not deadly to eternal life. Intercessory prayer forms a vital part of the fellowship of the Church.[30] The faithful prayers of believers in the church can help restore the wayward or backslidden Christian. Their prayers can affect the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life and restore such ones to a wholesome Christian life.

[1] John uses the perfect tense often, to indicate the present state of the believer

Marshall, I. Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), p. 256 Eerdmans, Kindle Edition

[2] Mark 10:27

[3] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 245-246, 251

[4] 1 John 2:1; cf. 1:9; 2:29

[5] Ibid. 3:4

[6] 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7

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

[8] 1 John 3:4

[9] Ibid. 5:16

[10] Ibid. 2:1

[11] Romans 3:23

[12] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 94

[13] See 1 John 1:9-2:2

[14] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, An Expository Commentary, op. cit., pp. 139-143

[15] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 193, 195

[16] See 1 John 1:5-2:2

[17] Hebrews 6:4-6

[18] Ibid. 12:17

[19] Ibid. 10:26-27

[20] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 74-76

[21] 1 John 2:1

[22] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 166

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

[24] 1 John 1:9

[25] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 312-313

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

[27] Genesis 18:22-33; Exodus 32

[28] Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14

[29] Lieu, Judith: A New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, op. cit., p. 228

[30] See John 20:23

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