Sunday August 12th
1 John 3
Here is a cute assortment of selections from the book “Children’s letters to God:
Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not have killed each other if they had their own rooms. That’s what my Mom did for me and my brother.
Dear God, I bet it is very hard to love everyone in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I’m having a hard time loving all of them.
Dear God, Are you really invisible or is it just a trick?
Dear God, Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?
Dear God, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in the church. Is that OK?
Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.
Dear God, I didn’t think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was pretty cool.
What’s also cool is that we’re called “children of God”.
That’s the wonderful news that opens up 1 John 3:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
Starting on the very day that you accepted Jesus as your savior, you became a son or a daughter of God. Ephesians 1:5 tells us that:
“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will”
And as God’s adopted children, we are being made to look more and more like our older brother, Jesus, every day. John put it this way in verse 2 “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him”.
And Romans 8:29 puts it this way:
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son”
Then notice what John says in verse 3 about those who are called to be God’s children:
“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
That certainly makes sense, doesn’t it? Jesus is pure and sinless, so if I am a follower of Jesus, and God is making me into the image of Jesus, then I should be seeking after purity too.
Now John is going to draw a line, using purity as the measuring stick, distinguishing what the children of God look like in comparison to those who aren’t children of God:
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
We saw the contrast between light and darkness that John has been focusing on since chapter 1, and now the contrast between the children of God and the children of the world is being explained here as a contrast between those who sin and those who do not. That’s because Jesus came to take away all of the sin from our lives. John describes sin as “lawlessness”. And lawlessness simply means disobedience to the moral laws of God.
John is saying that once we are born again, sin should have no more control over our lives.
However, he isn’t saying that we can be completely without sin.
In fact, back in chapter one, he said that anyone who says that he never sins is basically a liar!
The wording that John is using here could more accurately be translated as “no one who abides in Him keeps on sinning”.
There is a big difference between a person who is pursuing righteousness and purity, but who occasionally sins, versus someone who just continually and habitually commits the same sins over and over, with no real effort to change their behavior.
John is essentially saying that it’s not really possible, if you are truly abiding in Christ, to keep on doing what you used to do before you were saved. He goes on to emphasize this in verses 7-8:
7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
John reminds us that Jesus came to earth to destroy the works of the devil. And the devil’s work is sin. The battle between Jesus Christ and Satan began way back in Genesis when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve into disobeying God. That’s when sin entered the world. By accepting onto Himself the penalty for all of mankind’s sin, Jesus destroyed Satan’s plan to take humanity down.
9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
John says that it’s pretty obvious who has accepted salvation and defeated Satan in their lives, and who still follows the plans of the devil. Christ-followers live righteous lives, even if they might still occasionally sin. The ones that John calls the “children of the devil” are people who continue to practice sin willingly.
These are the same people that The Apostle Paul is taking about in Romans 1:32 when he says:
“Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
And these people have another tell-tale sign of being the devil’s children, according to verse 10 – they don’t love their brothers!
This has been a major theme of John’s letter – that true disciples of Christ MUST love each other! Because that’s what Jesus commanded us to do! And in verses 11 and 12 he uses an Old Testament example of someone who didn’t show love towards his brother – in fact he hated his brother:
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
Cain Killing his brother is the first recorded murder in the Bible. But it certainly wasn’t the last! One commentary puts it this way:
“The history of the world is the story of hatred, right back to the conflict between Cain and Abel. John traces Cain’s hatred to the difference of his motivations from those of Abel, a difference that will always exist between the world and the people of God.”
Think about it this way, Abel’s motivation was to please God with a pure offering.
Cain’s motivation was self-centered – he wanted God to be pleased with him - and therefore he was jealous when his brother found favor with God. That’s the same distinction that characterizes the children of God versus the children of the world even today.
The children of God seek to please Him, and the children of the world seek to please themselves.
We all should know that, because at one time we were ALL self-seeking children of the world. It’s only by God’s grace that we have become His adopted children instead!
Now John wants to remind us that once we have crossed over from the world’s family to God’s family, the world that we used to belong to may not take too kindly to the new version of us:
13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Jesus laid down his life for us. Literally! He accepted a painful death on the Cross so that we might be saved from eternal punishment. Our love for one another may not be that drastic, but it should at least involve a willingness to care for each other and to take action when a need arises.
Compare what John is saying here with James 2:15-17
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
John continues to emphasize this in verse 18:
18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
These next three verses are a bit difficult at first glance:
19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
The question you might ask is - why would our heart “condemn us”?
I’m not certain, but maybe it’s because when we compare ourselves to Jesus, who completely “laid down his life”, we might feel like we aren’t doing enough for others. But even if that’s the case, God is greater than our hearts. He knows our hearts. And if He isn’t condemning us why should we be condemning ourselves?
Verse 22 also needs a bit of clarification:
22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
Do you see the tricky part of that verse? If we don’t read the complete verse, we might be tempted to quote only the line that says “whatever we ask we receive”.
But that’s not the complete verse, is it? There is this other word that connects that promise to the rest of the words, and that word is “because”. That word means that the promise is conditional – it depends on what I do.
Can I receive whatever I ask from God? Yes, I can, but only BECAUSE I am keeping His commandments and doing what is pleasing in His sight.
What if I’m NOT keeping His commandments and doing what is pleasing in His sight? Can I expect to receive whatever I ask for? Absolutely not! The answers to my prayers depend on my obedience to His will and His ways.
And what is the commandment that God is expecting me to follow in order that I might receive His promises?
That’s not hard to figure out, because John spells it out for us in the final 2 verses of this chapter:
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
The two parts of this commandment remind us that our relationship with God is connected to our relationship with our neighbors. Our faith in Jesus puts us in a right relationship with God, and then it’s His grace that enables us to love other people.
We see the same thing expressed by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 when the Pharisees ask Him which one is the greatest commandment:
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Keep in mind that we will never truly be able to love other people if we don’t receive from God the knowledge and the ability regarding how to love another human being.
Without God’s grace we are destined to operate from a perspective of selfishness and self-centeredness.
That’s why both Jesus and John put “loving God” as the first step, then loving one another. It is step one that allows us to have the supernatural ability to take the second step.
We’re going to see that truth reinforced when we look at chapter 4 verse19:
“We love, because He first loved us.”
Some the circle of love looks something like this: