The key to understanding 1 John is to remember chapter three verse twenty-three, “And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us.” So what is the commandment that we are to keep according to the Epistle of 1 John? There are two parts to it. First we are to believe in “the name of His Son Jesus Christ,” and secondly we are to “love one another.”
John is giving us the gospel in this command. We are to acknowledge that we are only saved through Jesus Christ and the result of entering into that saving relationship with Jesus is that we will develop the character of love. In 5:2 we read, “By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey His commandments.” If we love God then we believe in His Son Jesus Christ and the result is that we love each other according to this verse when we remember what commandments are.
One of the aspects of studying the Bible is to allow the Bible to interpret itself. Another aspect is that we study the verses of any given passage in connection to the rest of the chapter and what is being said in the entire book. It is amazing that every time we quote from 1 John we substitute John’s definition of commandment for our preconceived idea that He must be talking about the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. While he is including the Ten Commandments in his command to love his command is much wider and more encompassing. 1 John is not a call to keep the Ten Commandments as a means of pleasing God or a way to salvation.
1 John is not a call for sinless perfection or demand that we struggle harder to keep all God’s law as proof of our love for Him. 1 John is reminding the readers that their first love is to acknowledge that their salvation comes through Jesus and no one or nothing else, and a born again Christian will love.
In chapter 4:7-8 he writes, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” To be born again or born of God and to know God only comes when we understand that God is love. We have quoted Brennan Manning before in the blogs but now is a good time to remind ourselves of his famous statement, “If God only asked us one question it would be ‘Do you believe that I love you?’ ” John is saying the same thing here in these two verses. He is telling his readers that to know God is to stamp into their minds the knowledge that God is love. “We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Now, here comes the result of following the commandment of God (believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ), “I write to you who believe in the name of the Son of God (3:23) that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 Also, “In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so we are in this world.” 1 John 4:13
Wow! There is no excuse for you and I not to believe that we have eternal life and as a result we can be confident in the Day of Judgment. And it is all predicated upon our believing in the name of Jesus Christ and then allowing that love to flow through us for others.
When we reduce 1 John to a place where we go for proof texts to prove the Ten Commandments have to be kept perfectly in order to please God we do not do justice to the great theme of John, which is trust in Jesus and love for each other.
Let’s take a moment to look at 1 John 3:6-9 as they are the two verses that most commonly get hauled out to beat us over the head with the absolute need for perfect sinlessness. Here are the two verses, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has either seen Him or known Him” (v.6) and “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. (v.9)
I have seen these two verses used more times than I can count to try and prove that we are to come to a place where we don’t sin. Now remember that we must let texts interpret texts within any given book of the Bible. Context is everything. Turn to 1 John 1: 8-10. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
These are powerful words and we could spend blog posting after blog posting studying these three verses, but for now we need to just grasp a few truths from them. First of all, and John mentions it twice, if we say we have no sin or have not sinned we deceive ourselves and make God out to be a liar not having truth in us nor His word in us. So 1 John 3:6 and 9 cannot be talking about sinless perfection or coming to the place where we don’t sin.
In fact 1 John 2:1 tells us, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The ideal, of course, is that we don’t sin but we do sin because of our nature. The good news is just because we do sin doesn’t mean that we are cast out or lost because anyone who believes in the name of His Son Jesus Christ has salvation. (see 1 John 2:2, 12)
Let’s get back to our texts in 1 John 3:6, 9. Look carefully at the two verses and it becomes clear in light of the commandment in 1 John 3:23 what is being said. Verse 6 says, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has either seen Him or knows Him,” now the key word of this verse is not sin but abides. For a longer study on what it means to abide in Jesus see the Gospel of John chapter 15. By the way, the study on abiding in God’s love in John 15 ends with this verse, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” (v. 12) John’s commandment is not for sinless perfection but to love.
1 John 4:15-16 tells us, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” We now know what it means to abide in Jesus. It is to confess that Jesus is the Son of God and love. “ Yes you are right, that is the commandment of 1 John 3:23.
If we accept Jesus as our personal savior, His sacrifice on Calvary’s cross is accredited to us. We stand before the Father as if we never sinned because the blood of Christ covers us. 1 John 4:18 is beautiful, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” (italics mine)
The Bible is not about you struggling to be perfect so you can take your chances standing before the judgment of God. The Gospel is about the peace that comes through the knowledge that you need not fear judgment because Jesus has taken your judgment upon Himself at the cross through love. (See John 5:24)
All 1 John 3:6 is telling us is that when we abide in Christ we are declared sinless, and the reason, “You know that He appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.” 1 John 3:5 Jesus is the only sinless one, the only perfect one, the only one who can save us from our sins and when we abide in Him we are declared sinless because we are covered by His righteousness. To know Jesus is to trust Jesus for our salvation. (See also 1 John 3: 5-6)
The works of Satan is to produce sin in us but Jesus has come to destroy the works of the Devil. He does that by becoming our substitute for sin and carrying the penalty for sin to the cross where He died that my sinfulness may be forgiven and forgotten by our loving Heavenly Father.
1 John 3:9 now makes perfect sense. “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in Him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” Again remember 1 John 1:10, “if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Now look at 1 John 1:9 and I believe it clarifies what is being said in 1 John 3:9. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (italics mine)
The reason that when we abide in Christ we cannot sin is because to abide in Christ is to confess our sins and believe that Jesus cleanses us from the guilt, shame and penalty of our sins. It is Jesus’ faithfulness, His justice, His forgiveness, His cleansing that allows us to stand before God declared sinless in His sight. I believe 1 John 3:6-9 is talking about our status as born again, saved, forgiven Christians who abide in Christ, believing in His name for salvation and reflecting the love of forgiveness back to others.
Now, the critics are going to dismiss everything I just wrote by saying, “So you are saying we can go sin.” I am not going to even go there with you. If you have read what I just wrote and think I am saying that then you missed the whole point of the Gospel. 1 John is about living the commandment of 1 John 3:23 and when we do that we have assurance that our sins are forgiven and forgotten. We now walk in love and when we do that we are not looking for every opportunity to get away with sin but to love others.
* Please take the time to read some of the stories of Christians who are experiencing persecution for their total commitment to Christ. They need our support and prayers.. http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…