John has a simple test to determine if someone is a follower of Christ or not. If they keep sinning in their thoughts, words, and deeds, then they obviously don’t have the love of the Father in them. It’s important to realize that the Greek construction of this concept doesn’t talk about a person sinning once or twice; it deals with people who sin and keep on sinning, living as though they were acceptable to God even though they disobeyed Him. Does God still love someone like that? Yes. If they’re God’s children, would they live like that? No. I believe that when the Bible speaks about Jesus taking away our sins, it also means that He takes away those behaviors that are sinful. We continue in sin because we’re in open rebellion to God. Our own actions prove the lack of relationship with God.
On the other hand, if we do have a relationship with God, our righteous living will show that also. This doesn’t mean self-righteousness. It doesn’t mean making it a point to let everyone know how righteous we are. It means that we’re living humbly in a right relationship with God and our actions will change to reflect the character of God in our lives.
1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
I can’t help but think that John continued to be amazed at the magnitude of God’s love for us. Paul talked about how God adopted us as His children. Under the Roman system, a man could disown his natural born children, but couldn’t disown adopted children. While John didn’t dwell on adoption as his theme, he marveled, and expected his readers to understand and marvel as well, about the amazing love of God that allowed us to be called His children. Because we’re God’s children, we aren’t in synch with the world. The world doesn’t know us; we aren’t on the list of the popular people, society turns away – all because they don’t know our Father. In the world, you’re often judged on who you know, and your family lineage. As followers of Christ, we are, as the Sidewalk Prophets stated so beautifully in the song, “Come to the Table,” a motley crew of misfits with no family lineage that they recognize. But to those of us who are in Christ, we are the children of God the Father – the Almighty! the Creator! the Redeemer!
2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
At this point, John reminded us of our eternity. I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of what eternity or even heaven will be like. John reminded us that we don’t know what it will be like, we don’t even know what we’ll be like. What we do know is that when Jesus comes again, we’ll be like Him. We’ll see Jesus as He really is. We don’t need to know the future, we just need to know who holds the future. If God holds the future, and He does, we can rest assured that all will be well. We don’t know the future, but we know that we shall be like Him and that we shall recognize Him and see Him, Jesus, as He truly is in all of His glory.
3. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
This verse begs a question: why would anyone need to purify themselves if they’re already pure. I’ve seen people attack the idea that we’re sinners because of verses like this. In truth, God sees us as pure from sin because of the sacrifice of Jesus. At the same time, the truth is that because we recognize we we are in Christ, that recognition leads us want our earthly lives to reflect the purity that God sees in us to others on this earthly plane. We want people to see us like God sees us and so, we seek to become better in all we do. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that would make other people think poorly of God because I did it.
4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
There’s a teaching going around that because we’re in Christ, we can’t sin. Because we’re under grace our sin doesn’t matter. John, and I will reiterate a point I’ve mentioned many times before, walked with Jesus and was taught personally by Jesus; he was personally rebuked by Jesus for his sins, noted that anyone who sins goes against the law. Jesus not only took away the penalty for our sins, though, He takes away our desire for sin and that’s seen in the feelings of guilt when we know we do something contrary to God’s plan. If you live in Christ, you’re not going to be able to continue living in a sinful condition. We purify oursleves (vs. 3) and God keeps working in us to take away our sin. The picture of committing sin here in verses 4-6 is someone who continues in sin, not someone who commits one sin and then repents. If you abide in Christ, you won’t continue living in sin. If you keep living in sin, then it’s obvious that you really haven’t seen Him from a spiritual perspective, nor have you known Him. John’s really blunt about things here: if you sin, and you keep on sinning, it shows that you don’t have a relationship with Christ. The question each of us must ask is what’s more important: God’s desires for us or what we think we think we want.
7. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Some people like to make life complicated and see it in shades of gray. The truth is that someone who does good things, someone who lives and acts righteously does so because they are righteous, or in a right relationship with God. On the other hand, someone who lives in a constant state of sin not only isn’t in a right relationsihp with God, their motivation comes from the devil. When Jesus enters our lives, He destroys that motivation and those works. We don’t do the right things because we’re forced to, we do the right things; we live righteously because we want to. When Jesus destroys the works of the devil, He restores a sense of righteousness in us.
9. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
When John talked about someone who is born of God not sinning, he spoke of the idea of living a life immersed in sin. It’s not that we can’t commit the occasional si, it’s that the seed of God in us pulls us toward good. We’d be miserable in our sinful condition and our natural response to that misery would be to turn back to God and seek forgiveness, not continue sinning. And John makes it clear here: if you don’t live righteously and if you don’t love your brother, you are not of God. (And, just to be clear, John coud have included sisters in this discourse.) If you are practicing racism, sexism, classism, or any other kind of “ism” that lives by hate, you’re not coming from God, you’re coming from your father the devil. One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is the love that Christians have for each other.