God wants us to know that we are far more than what we have been told by Satan and other people. No one has the power to define us but the One Who created us and redeemed us.  God takes a lot of time in the Bible to tell us who we are when we become His children through faith in Jesus (John 1:12; I John 3:1; 5:1). The phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” is used 120 times in the New Testament and refers to how God sees us after we become children of God by believing in Jesus. Seeing ourselves through God’s eyes is what I will refer to as our new identity in Christ. To begin to understand your new identity in Christ, review the list of entries below that describe how God sees you from the moment you believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:12; 12:36; 2 Cor. 5:17; Ephes 1:13-14):
I am never alone (Deut. 31:6, 8; Isa. 41:10; Heb. 13:5)
I am the apple of my Father’s eye (Ps. 17:8; Matt. 6:26; 10:29-31)
I am a delight to God (Ps. 18:19; Zeph. 3:17)
I am cherished and loved by God (Ps. 27:10)
I am hope-filled (Ps. 27:13; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 5:5)
I am helped, not helpless (Isa. 41:10, 13)
I am always loved no matter what (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 5:8; 8:38-39)
I am precious to Jesus Who gave up everything to redeem or purchase me (Matt. 13:45-46; I Cor. 6:19-20; I Pet. 1:18-19)
I have everlasting life and will not be judged for my sins (John 5:24)
I am free from bondage to sin positionally (John 8:31-36)
I have the power of the Holy Spirit inside me (Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:11; Gal. 5:22-23)
I have peace with God through faith in Jesus (Rom. 5:1)
I have hope because the love of God was poured out in my heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5)
I am dead to sin (Rom. 6:2, 11; I Pet. 2:24)
I am set free from the power of sin (Rom. 6:2-11)
I have the Spirit of adoption by whom I cry out to God, ‘Abba (Daddy/Papa), Father.’” (Rom. 8:15)
I am free from accusation in Christ (Rom. 8:33)
I am free from condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:34)
I have an eternal inheritance from God (glorified resurrection body/eternal dwelling on the New Earth) that cannot be taken from me (Rom. 8:17a; Gal. 3:26, 29; Ephes. 1:14; cf. John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:35-58; Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21-22)
I am more than a conqueror through Christ Who loved me (Rom. 8:37)
I can never be separated from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39)
I have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16)
I am a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)
I am reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18)
I am an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)
I am good enough in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21)
I can change because Jesus now lives inside me through His Spirit (Gal. 2:20; cf. Rom. 8:11)
I am redeemed from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13; I Pet. 1:18-19)
I am a saint (one declared righteous) at the core of my being, not a sinner (Ephes. 1:1; I John 3:9)
I am chosen or wanted by God (Ephes. 1:4a; Col. 3:12a)
I am holy and without blame before God (Ephes. 1:4b)
I am totally accepted by God in Christ (Ephes. 1:6)
I am totally forgiven in Christ (Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14)
I am sealed by the Holy Spirit Who guarantees my safe and secure delivery to God in heaven (Ephes. 1:13-14)
I am seated in a position of authority and victory next to Jesus in the heavenly places far above all other authorities (Ephes. 1:20- 21; 2:5-6)
I am God’s masterpiece, not a mistake (Ephes. 2:10)
I have been brought closer to God through the blood of Christ (Ephes. 2:13)
I have instant access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephes. 2:18)
I am a holy temple where the Holy Spirit now lives (I Cor. 6:19; Ephes. 2:21-22)
I am defined by the light of Jesus Christ, not by the darkness of my sin (Ephes. 5:8; cf. John 12:36)
I have what it takes in Christ (Phil. 4:13)
I am delivered from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13)
I am complete in Christ, lacking nothing (Col. 2:10)
I am safely & securely hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)
I am dearly loved by God (Col. 3:12a; I John 3:1)
I am credited with Christ’s holiness and therefore I am accepted by God (Col. 3:12a)
I am God’s child born again of the incorruptible seed of the Word of God that stands forever (I Pet. 1:3, 23)
I am a special person to God (I Pet. 2:9)
I have the Greatest One in me because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world (I John 4:4)
I overcame the world when I believed in Jesus (I John 5:1, 4)
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” I John 5:20.
This will be our last lesson on the book of I John. As we have stated several times before, this book is about fellowship with God (1:3-4). Being in fellowship with God depends on walking in the light as He is in the light (1:7), confessing our sins (1:9), keeping God’s commandments (2:3-5; 3:24), loving one another (2:9-11; 3:11-23; 4:7-5:3), hating the world (2:15-17), acknowledging Jesus is God’s Son (2:23; 4:2-3, 4:15), practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10), listening to and obeying apostolic teaching (4:6), and avoiding idolatry (5:21).
As the apostle John concludes his letter, he is seeking to encourage his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) who may be moving deeper into darkness along the path of sin or they may know of other Christians who are, and therefore, may be in danger of a premature physical death (5:16-17; cf. Acts 5:5-10; I Cor. 3:16-17; 5:5; 11:30). John already presented two unchanging certainties in 5:18-19 beginning with the phrase “we know that…” (oidamen hoti). He wants his readers to know that no matter how far down into darkness a Christian brother or sister has traveled, they are still God’s child at the core of their being because His sinless seed remains in them (5:18; cf. 3:9) and he or she is on God’s side whether they consciously sense that or not, and will therefore feel like a foreigner in this Satanically controlled world (5:19; 2:16-17). 1
We are now ready to look at the third encouragement from the apostle in 5:20. This is one of the clearest verses in the Bible concerning the deity of Jesus Christ. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). Again, we see the phrase, “we know that…” which reminds us that what John is about to say is absolute truth from God the Holy Spirit.
What is it we can know with certainty? “That the Son of God has come…” (5:20a). John and the other apostles were eyewitnesses to the coming of God’s Son in the first century (cf. 1:1-5; 2:7; 4:14). Jesus is not some mythical person. History attests to the fact that Jesus Christ was a real Person Who was born before King Herod’s death.
Luke 2:1 states that Jesus was born in the reign of Caesar Augustus (who reigned from March 15, 44 B.C. to August 19, A.D 14). Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5 inform us that Christ’s birth came before King Herod’s death. Herod’s death can be determined with certainty. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities 17.6.4), an eclipse of the moon occurred on March 12/13, 4 B.C. before Herod’s death. 2 Josephus also records (Antiquities 17.9.3; The Jewish War 2.1.30) that the Passover celebration that took place after King Herod’s death occurred on April 11, 4 B.C. 3 Hence, Herod must have died between March 12 and April 11, 4 B.C. Therefore, for these reasons Christ could not have been born later than March/April of 4 B.C.
Every time we write down today’s date, it goes back to Jesus. Today is May 11, 2023. Two thousand twenty-three years from what? From A.D. which stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for “year of our Lord,” and it means the number of years since the birth of Jesus Christ.
“It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years!” 4
In addition to the historicity of Christ’s birth, there is also ample historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Josephus also wrote of Jesus’ death,“Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross.” 5 Roman historian,Cornelius Tacitus, wrote, “a wise man who was called Jesus…. Pilate condemned Him to be condemned and to die.” In addition, he said that Jesus’ disciples “reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive.” 6
A Roman writer,Phlegon, referred to Christ’s death and resurrection in his Chronicles, saying, “Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” 7
In addition, Phlegon spoke of “the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place.”8
The historical evidence for Jesus’ death is so overwhelming that even a Muslim scholar, Reza Aslan, who wrote the book, Zealot, was persuaded to conclude Jesus “was most definitely crucified.” 9 Despite the fact that the Quran denies Christ’s death (Sura 4:157),the historical evidence persuaded Aslan to conclude that Christ truly did die on the cross. “He believes so strongly in Jesus’ death by crucifixion that he uses it as the foundation for his entire theory of Jesus’ life.” 10
Just as history proclaims that George Washington was the first President of the USA, so history proclaims that Jesus Christ was born in 4 B.C., and thirty-three years later died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of ancient history. Thomas Arnold authored a three-volume history of Rome and was appointed to Oxford’s Chair of Modern History. Concerning the evidence behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he said, “I have been used for years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than that Christ died and rose from the dead.” 11
Frank Morison, a British trial lawyer, vowed to write a book disproving Christianity and committed to base his book on a collection of facts. Using a critical method of evaluation and despite his initial beliefs, he concluded that Christianity is true. The resurrection convinced him, and he wrote a book entitled, Who Moved the Stone? which begins with the chapter, “The Book that Refused to Be Written.”
Former atheists Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel set out to disprove the resurrection of Christ only to be persuaded by the historical evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. You can read about the evidence that persuaded them to believe in Jesus in their books: McDowell ‘s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1999) and The Resurrection Factor (1981); Strobel’s The Case for Christ Revised (2013) and The Case for Easter (2004).
John states that Christ came “and has given us an understanding” (5:20b). The Greek word for “understanding” (dianoian) refers to “comprehending,” or “insight, intelligence.” 12 This is the only time John uses this word in his epistle. Christ’s coming provided the giving of the Holy Spirit or “the anointing” (2:21-20, 27) to all who believe in Jesus (John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-48; 11:15-17; 15:7-11; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:2-3; Ephes. 1:13-14; et al.).
In his gospel, John records that the night before His crucifixion, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “dwell… in” them (John 14:16-17; cf. I Cor. 3:16; 6:19), “teach” them and bring to “remembrance all” that He taught (John 14:26), and “guide” them into “all truth” to “glorify” Jesus (John 16:13-14).
John informs us that this “understanding” the Holy Spirit gives believers (cf. I Cor. 2:9-16) enables them to “know Him who is true” (5:20c). The word “know” (ginōskōmen) refers to experiential knowledge (see comments on 2:3-4, 12-14). The coming of the Son of God has given believers the comprehension or intelligence necessary to “know Him” experientially “who is true.” This experiential knowledge is the result of obedience to God’s commands (2:3-4; c. John 14:21, 23). 13
“Christian love (obedience) is never absent where God is truly known (cf. comments on 4:7-8). There could be no true understanding of love or of God had not the Son of God come and died to reveal God’s love. Through His death the Son has given us an understanding (an intelligence) by means of which we may know God. The obedient Christian possesses the necessary spiritual capacity to know God.”14
When John states “and we are in Him who is true” (5:20d), we are reminded that he equated being “in Him” (God) to “abiding” in Him (cf. 2:5-6), just as Jesus taught the branch is to abide in the vine (cf. John 15:1-8).Christ said that “abiding” is necessary to be a “disciple” who “bears fruit,” experiences answered prayer and “joy,” and glorifies “the Father” (John 15:1-11). To be “in Him” is equated to having fellowship with God. 15 Hence, John is not talking about our position or salvation in I John 5:20 when he speaks of being “in Him,” he is talking about our condition or fellowship with God. Being “in Him” refers to “abiding” in Him. 16
John then identifies the One “who is true” when he writes, “in His Son Jesus Christ” (5:20e). John heard Christ say the night before His crucifixion, “I am… the truth” (John 14:6). There is nothing false or misleading about Jesus Christ. He is the truth.Some suggest that the first “Him” in 5:20 refers to God the Father (“that we know Him who is true”) and the second “Him” refers to Christ(“and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ”).
“But to be in Him, that is, to abide in Him, is not only to abide in Him who is true (as John has just described God), but it is also to be in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no and between the phrases in Him and in His Son. To abide in God and to abide in Christ are the same thing.” 17
John then makes one of the clearest proclamations of the deity of Christ in all the Bible in the last part of the verse. “This is the true God and eternal life.” (5:20f). Clearly the nearest antecedent in 5:20 for the pronoun “this” (houtos) is Jesus Christ (Iēsou Christō) which agrees in gender (masculine) and number (singular). Christ is the main focus of this verse. John clearly states that Jesus Christ is “the true God and eternal life.” There is no other possible antecedent in this verse.
Someone might ask, “Didn’t Jesus deny that He was the true God when He prayed to His Father in heaven and addressed Him as the only true God in John 17:3?” Christ prayed to His Father in heaven, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Jesus was not denying He was the “true God,” but was praising His Father as such.
The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was. But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another?
Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus “is in” the Father, and the Father “is in” Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is “one” with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the true God.
The Greek word translated “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).
To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God.
In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” such as idols. Christ had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.
This understanding is substantiated further by John in his epistle when he identifies Christ as “the true God” (5:20f). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.
In I John 5:20 the apostle also declares that Jesus Christ is “eternal life,” which connects back to the prologue (1:1-4) where the subject matter of John’s epistle was identified as “that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (1:2b). This supports the final statement in verse 20 as a reference to Jesus Christ. Taken together, 1:2 and 5:20 provide bookends for what John wrote. By saying Jesus is the “eternal life,” John has fulfilled his intention to “declare” to his readers this “eternal life” (1:2). 18
“He has shown them that by ‘abiding’ in Him who is true (which is also to abide in His Son Jesus Christ), they can experience eternal life. That life, expressed in love toward their Christian brothers and sisters, springs out of the sinless inner self (5:18). It marks their life and experience as being of God rather than of the world (5:19), and expresses the spiritual understanding that the Son of God came to give them (5:20a).”19
As we mentioned in our previous lesson, some of you may have a Christian spouse or child whohas pursued the lusts of this passing world (2:16-17). They have been so twisted by the godless values of this world system that they are doing things that are contrary to their Christian beliefs and values. Because of their prolonged plunge into the deep darkness of sin, you have lost hope that they will ever return to fellowship with God and His people.
John wants to encourage us in 5:20 with this “spiritual radar system or search light the Holy Spirit uses to direct us to the true God. There are many false gods in the world (as the next verse warns), which can lead us far from the path of God. This internal guidance system can help bring us home. It’s what Paul would call the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:15-16).” 20
In stark contrast to the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the true God and eternal life” (5:20), John concludes his epistle with a final admonition to avoid false gods: “Little children,keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John begins this verse with “Little children” (teknia, “born-ones”; cf. 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4) 21 which expresses his fatherly love and concern for these believers.
This concluding verse may seem out of place to us at first, but in view of John’s previous discussion on prayer for a sinning believer (5:16-17) and his three encouragements (5:18-20), the last of which uses the word “true” three times to describe our “God” (5:20), this is a very pertinent conclusion to the apostle’s epistle on fellowship with God and other believers.
The opposite of true is false. Our God is true (5:20), but “idols” are false gods (5:21). “There is no need to take ‘idols’ in a figurative sense. In the Greco-Roman world of John’s day, any moral compromise with worldly perspectives was likely to lead to some involvement with idolatry, since idolatry permeated pagan life at every level.”22
Our spiritual radar system (intelligence given to us by the Holy Spirit – 5:20), can help us recognize the true God (Jesus Christ) in contrast to the false gods of this world. False gods can destroy our fellowship or closeness with God and other Christians. 23
Anderson observes that “we don’t have to study the Old Testament long to see that while kings ruled in Israel, idolatry reigned in the temple more years than Yahweh. God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to purify His people from their idols. And since it was King Solomon who introduced idolatry into Israel through his intermarriage with foreign wives, we see how easily idolatry can creep into the life of a wise man who was even used by God to write inspired revelation.
“Idols are usually good things. The bronze serpent (Num. 21:4-9) was initially used by God to heal the Israelites from snake bites. But eight centuries later (2 Kgs. 18:4) Hezekiah had to destroy the bronze serpent, for it had become an idol called Nehushtan (piece of bronze) to which they burned incense. Our idols are usually not evil things, but rather good things: our possessions (cars, houses, even yards), our retirement accounts, our bodies, our success—you name it.” 24
How do we identify an idol? It has been said that “an idol is like an eclipse of the sun— the moon gets in the way. When something gets between us and God’s light, then darkness creeps in and whatever is blocking that light is an idol. Beware! Solomon was no dummy. He thought he was doing something good by expanding the land of Israel out to the borders promised by God to Abraham. But he had to compromise the guidelines laid down by God for a king (Deut. 17:17) in order to do it.”25
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is it taking the place of God in my life? Is it becoming more important to me than spending time with the Lord Jesus?
Is it more important to me than my family, my Christian friends, and my ministry?
What do I turn to other than God to medicate my feelings of anxiety, boredom, depression, exhaustion, loneliness, self-doubts, or stress?
What do I turn to other than God to celebrate or reward myself for an accomplishment or achievement?
If you answered these questions honestly, you probably have a good idea of some idols in your life. An idol could be alcohol, your cell phone, drugs, entertainment, fame, feelings, intellectualism, novels, pleasure, possessions, power, sex, social media, sports, success, work, etc.
I believe one of the most dangerous and destructive idols for believers of all ages in the church today is pornography.26 Yet most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. 27 Churches often preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Unresolved pain or trauma from our past is often what drives addictions of any kind.
The solution to overcoming pornography or any addiction for that matter, is to look to Jesus Christ, the true God and eternal life, to heal the pain that drives the addiction (I John 5:20). This is done through the discipleship process whereby a believer in Jesus learns to abide in Jesus’ word along with other believers so they can know the truth that sets them free from the lies that drive their bondage to sin and shame (John 8:31-36). As a believer identifies the lies that drive their addiction, they can learn to replace those lies in the power of the Holy Spirit with the truth of God’s Word that brings freedom from bondage to sin (cf. Psalm 119:28-29). This is to be done in the context of a loving community of like-minded believers who can encourage and empower each other on their journey to freedom (2 Tim. 2:22).
If you do not know for sure you have eternal life and a future home in Jesus’ heaven, you need to start with understanding that Jesus Christ is the only source of eternal life. The bookends of I John (1:1-3; 5:20) have informed us of this. To have eternal life in one’s life, you must have Jesus Christ, Who is eternal life (5:20), in your life (5:11-12). How do you get Christ in your life? John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). To “know” with absolute certainty, not guess, or hope that you “have eternal life,” you must “believe in the name of the Son of God.” There is no mention of having fruit, obedience, or a changed life to know you have eternal life. The only condition is to “believe in the name of the Son of God.” This is so simple that many adults miss it.
In this context, to “believe in” (pisteúō eis) the name of the Son of God means to be convinced or persuaded that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (5:20) Who will give you eternal life as a free gift the moment you believe in His name. 28 Are you convinced or persuaded that this promise of God is true? If so, then you can “know” with absolutely certainty that you now have eternal life. And you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ Who is the true God and eternal life (I John 5:1, 13, 20; cf. John 14:1-6). Christ cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). His promise is as true as He is true.
If you or a fellow believer close to you find yourselves moving deeper into darkness on the pathway of sin and there seems to be no hope of returning to fellowship with God and His people, I pray that God’s encouraging promises in John’s final words in his letter (5:18-21) will give you the assurance and guidance you need. These promises include… 29
1. God’s sinless seed (divine nature) remains in youor your loved one so that you (or he/she) are still the same holy child of God who remains untouched or harmed by evil or the evil one no matter how badly or long you (or he/she) have sinned (5:18; 3:9). This unchanged seed remains a base from which the Holy Spirit can work within you (or him/her) to bring healing to you (or him/her) so you can return to fellowship with God and His people.
2.You (or he/she) are on God’s side and will never be completely comfortable living for this world (5:19). As a child of God, you (or he/she) are totally separate from the whole world that lies under the influence of Satan, and to some degree you will never feel completely comfortable in this sin sick world. God can turn your (or his/her) discomfort into disgust so you (or he/she) will turn towards home (God).
3. God’s search light (inner, spiritual intelligence) within you (or him/her) can be used by the Holy Spirit to guide you(or him/her) back to the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (5:20-21). God’s Spirit can whisper what is right in the ear of a wayward believer whose fellowship with God and other Christians has been cut off by their focus on the idols of this world, so he or she will return to the only true God Who alone can give them fullness of joy as they resume fellowship with Him and His people.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the book of I John which was written to help believers experience the joy of close fellowship with You and Your eternal Son, Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, there are many false gods or idols in the world that seek to draw us away from You and Your Word. Some of us or those we love, have become enslaved to these idols and we are in desperate need of Your Spirit to turn our discomfort in this sin sick world into disgust so we may return to the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ. Forgive us Father for turning to the things of this world to medicate our pain instead of looking to Jesus, Who can heal us and satisfy our deepest needs. Thank You for the encouraging promises You have given us at the end of John’s epistle which offer us assurance and guidance. Help us to express our new nature and separateness from this Satanically controlled world system by guarding ourselves from the false gods of this world. Rescue us, restore us, and renew us, we pray. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 265.
2. Retrieved on May 11, 2023, from Daniel B. Wallace’s article entitled “The Birth of Jesus Christ,” at bible.org and from the Biblical Archaeology Society Staff’s December 15, 2022, article entitled “Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth, and a Lunar Eclipse at biblicalarchaeology.org.
4. Wallace, “The Birth of Jesus Christ,” at bible.org.
5. Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross,Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), pg. 236 cites Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” 18:3; trans. William Whiston, Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1963), pg. 379.
6. Ibid. cites Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55? – after 117), Annals, 15.44.
7. Ibid., cites Phlegon, “Chronicles,” as cited by Origen, “Against Celsus” from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), vol. 4, pg. 455.
9. Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pg. 179 cites interview with Lauren Green.
11. Thomas Arnold, Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed. (London: T. Fellowes, 1859), pp. 14-16.
12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 234.
13. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 604.
14. Ibid., pg. 606.
15. See Dillow’s thorough discussion of John 15 in Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 611-626.
16. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.
17. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 606.
20. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.
21. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4130.
22. Ibid., Kindle Location 4130 to 4135.
23. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 266.
25. Ibid., pp. 266-267.
26. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted – see Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21; young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing (see Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .” Christians who are hooked on pornography have less spiritual interest in attending church, reading their Bibles, prayer, and hanging out with other Christians.
27. Less than 7% of pastors in America provide solutions to help their people break free from porn (see Ted Shimer, The Freedom Fight: The New Drug and the Truths that Set Us Free (Houston: High Bridge Books, 2020), pg. 89 cites Barna Survey at https://www.charismnews.com/us/73208-15-statistics-about-the-church-and-pornography-that-will-blow-your-mind. However, Shimer also provides practical suggestions in his book on how churches can overcome the obstacles that keep them from addressing pornography in helpful and healthy ways (pp. 91-99).
28. The phrase to “believe in” (pisteúō eis) basically means to be convinced or persuaded that something is true and therefore is worthy of your trust – see Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 816-817.
“We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” I John 5:18
As the apostle John concludes his letter, he reviews and reinforces truths he has shared throughout his epistle. John just focused on praying for Christian brothers and sisters who had wandered far away from God and His people on the path of sin (5:16-17). Some of these sinning believers may be close to departing from this world through a premature death (cf. Acts 5:5-10; I Cor. 3:16-17; 5:5; 11:30). 1
John’s readers (including you and me) may have wondered, “Is there any hope that these sinning believers can be restored to fellowship with God and us? Is it still possible for them to resume walking in the light of fellowship with the Lord and His people after wandering so far into darkness?”
Or maybe some of his readers were asking, “Is there any hope that I can be restored to fellowship with God after wandering aimlessly for so long in the depths of darkness? Does God still love me and want to be close to me?”
I believe the apostle John would say, “Yes, a thousand times, Yes!!!” In the next three verses John will focus on three certainties. Each of the verses in 5:18-20 begins with “We know that …” (oidamen hoti). In the New Testament the Greek word oida almost always refers to “direct insight into spiritual or divine truth” although it may not be truth that has been experienced yet. 2 “This truth is the result of the teaching and convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit.”3 It is also important to observe that this Greek verb is in the perfect tense (oidamen) which means John and his readers knew these truths in the past and they continue to know them to the present. These are not guesses or mere human opinions, they are absolute unchanging truths from God that the apostle and his readers can be sure of no matter what they or other believers are facing or feeling.
“We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” (I John 5:18). We have already learned that the phrase “whoever is born of God” refers to the divine or born-again nature we receive from God when we believe in Jesus as the Christ for everlasting life (cf. 3:9; 5:1, 13). The Greek participle translated “is born” (ho gegennēmenos) is in the perfect tense which means the new birth took place in the past and continues to the present. Since God cannot sin, the divine nature He places inside His child “does not sin” either (5:18b). A sinless Parent cannot beget a sinful child. So, sin is never an act of the born-again nature inside the believer because it is incapable of sinning (cf. 3:9).
“This divine nature is portrayed as a person (a figure of speech known as personification, that is, to treat something which is not a person as though it were, like calling a ship ‘she’). That’s why this nature is called ‘whoever,’ ‘he,’ ‘himself,’ and ‘him.’”4
The apostle Paul spoke of this new nature as the “new man” when he writes, “And that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephes. 4:24; cf. Col. 3:10). This new nature or “inner man” is strengthened by the Spirit of God (Ephes. 3:16) and has the capacity to resist the corruption and sinful lusts of this passing world which is under the control of Satan (I John 2:16-17; 5:18-19; cf. John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; Col. 1:13a). 5
Hence, John says, “he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” The word “keeps” (tēreō) means to “watch over, guard, protect, or keep unharmed.” 6 The recipient of this protection is the born-again person (“himself”).
“In saying that the regenerate inward person (cf. Rom 7:22) ‘keeps himself,’ John is not saying that one’s inner self can somehow prevent all sin in the Christian life (cf. 1:5-10). What John means is that God’s ‘seed remains in’ the regenerate inner self (cf. 3:9) as the controlling element of his born-again nature and is impervious to even the slightest contamination from the wicked one. Believers’ failures are due to the sinful ‘programming’ of their earthly bodies, as Paul himself taught in Rom 7:7-25.” 7
Even though Satan uses the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life to sway believers away from God (2:16; 5:19), John assures us “the wicked one does not touch him,” that is, the born-again self (5:18c). The word “touch” (haptetai) means “to touch with the purpose of harming, to injure.” 8 Satan and the world he controls, cannot harm the born-again self.
This is important for all of us to remember about ourselves or other believers when humbled by sinful failures. The evil one would like to trick us into thinking that a Christian who continually walks in the darkness or repeatedly struggles with the same sin is not really God’s child which can lead them to more sinful failures. The Bible tells us we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7). If I am convinced I am not really saved because of my repeated failures, then I will be more inclined to live like a nonbeliever.
But if we know and embrace the truth found in I John 5:18, we can avoid the devil’s deception, and rise from our confession of sin to the Lord (I John 1:9), knowing we are the same inwardly holy children of God we were before we sinned. So, whatever we or another Christian have succumbed to in the world, John wants us to know that who we are at the core of our being has not changed. We are still a holy child of God because God’s sinless seed remains in us (3:9).
Zane Hodges says it like this: “At the very moment we are most humbled by our sinful failures, and when we confess them, it is helpful to be confident that those failures have not really changed what we are as children of God. The enemy, try as he might, cannot really touch us. He can only attempt to persuade us that he can or has. But if we know the truth stated in this verse, he will not be able to deceive us. For if we let him, Satan will use our failures to lead us to further failure. So, after every sin, deeply though we may and should regret it, we ought to rise from our confession to God knowing that we are the same inwardly holy persons we were before we failed!” 9
Some of you reading this may have a Christian spouse or child who has pursued the lusts of this passing world (2:16-17). They have been so twisted by the godless values of this world system that they are doing things that violate their Christian beliefs and values. Perhaps they have succumbed to the allurement of alcohol, drugs, gambling, materialism, pornography, or sex. Or maybe they have developed an acute mental condition such as severe depression or a phobia. They are in bondage to such things. Please do not give up or lose hope.
If your spouse or child is a believer in Jesus Christ, he or she is still a child of God at the core of his or her being and cannot be touched or harmed by evil or the evil one (I John 5:18; cf. 3:6-9). The “seed” or divine nature of God within him or her remains unchanged. It cannot be altered or even tempted. It remains a base from which the Holy Spirit can work within this loved one to bring healing to him or her, and to bring them back to fellowship with God and His people. 10 As long as that seed remains (and it will), “it can be watered by your prayers. As long as that seed remains, it can still grow. As long as that seed remains, it can blossom, and eternal fruit can be born. Do not give up.” 11
The restoration of fellowship for wayward Christians is based on walking in the Spirit, relying on Him to express God’s sinless born-again nature in them (I John 3:6-9; 5:18; cf. Gal. 5:16-25). It is not based on willful determination, on keeping New Year’s resolutions, or the power of positive thinking. 12
But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does a child of God have God’s sinless seed that remains in him or her, but he or she is also on God’s side and God is on their side. 13 He has not given up on them. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (I John 5:19). Again, John begins with “we know that…” (oidamen hoti) to convey the absolute certainty of what he is about to say. This is not mere speculation; it is absolute truth.
The phrase “of God” (ek tou Theou) refers to being on God’s side in I John. 14
“To be ‘of’ something in 1 John is to be on the side of the something. We saw this in 1 John 3:10b, 19 and 4:4. In reference to believers it means to have a dynamic, spiritual link to God, Who is obviously capable of giving us victory over the world. To be ‘of God’ means we are on His side, and He is on our side. The world lies like a limp puppet in the lap of the evil one, ready to be filled with his power. On the other side, we lie in the lap of the Lord, ready to be filled with His power.” 15
The phrase “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (ho kosmos holosen tō ponerō keitai) “suggests that the world passively rests within Satan’s operative sphere. By contrast, the phrase ek Theou (‘of God’) means being ‘from’ God. The Christian should be aware of his own sinless inward man (5:18), and he should also be aware of his utter separateness from the whole world that lives under Satan’s sway. Believers, whom the enemy cannot ‘touch’ (5:18), are not a part of the world, which lies passively in the wicked one. Thus, believers must not ‘love the world or the things in the world’ (2:15-17) and they must resist the ideas that the world promotes (cf. 2:18-19).”16
John wants to “reinforce the readers’ consciousness that they are distinct from the satanically controlled world system and basically free from its power. They need not listen to the worldly ideas advanced by the antichrists (3:7-8). Nor need they succumb to worldly desires (cf. 2:15-17).”17
Since a believer’s regenerate self (3:9; 5:18) and conduct is sourced in God and is free from the power of Satan and his world system (5:19), there is still hope for a Christian who has been in bondage to sin for a prolonged time. Hence, if your Christian spouse or child has been living like the devil, please know that they do not belong to the evil one nor his world system.
What this means is your sinning Christian spouse or child does not belong to Satan’s world, and he or she will always to some degree feel like a foreigner in this world system. Your loved one will never feel completely comfortable in this sin-sick world. This world is not a Christian’s home, we are just passing through; our home is way out there, somewhere beyond the blue. The child of God who wanders about aimlessly in darkness will always have a degree of discomfort. They will always know something is wrong, something just isn’t right. This is not who I am in Christ.
The good news is God can turn discomfort into disgust. When your loved one’s discomfort turns to disgust, he or she will turn towards home (God). Regardless of what this person tells you, if he or she gets sucked into the sewer of this world system, they are acting out of character, and they will never be completely comfortable. Don’t listen to their lies. Keep praying that their discomfort will turn to disgust, and God will restore them back to fellowship with Him. When they finally realize that they are wasting their life eating slop with the pigs in the pig sty, they will turn their eyes toward home (cf. Luke 15:13-17).
Because of God’s seed within your believing spouse or child, he or she is on God’s side whether they consciously sense that or not, and they will feel like a foreigner in this world. God can turn this discomfort into disgust so that they will want to come home to fellowship with Him and His family. Next time, Lord willing, we will discover how to get there. 18
Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, oh how we needed to hear these encouraging words about Christians who are living in the depths of darkness and appear to have no hope of returning to fellowship with You and Your people. Thank You for reminding us that no matter how much we or our loved ones have embraced the lusts of this passing world, if we or they are a believer in Jesus, Your sinless nature remains inside us and is not touched by evil or the evil one. We are still children of God at the core of our being, and to some degree there will be discomfort with our sinful lifestyle and choices. Please oh Lord, turn this discomfort to disgust so all of us living in the darkness will return home to fellowship with You and Your people. Help us to rely on Your Holy Spirit for the power to live out these unchanging truths in our daily Christian lives. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 261-262.
2. Ibid., pg. 124.
4. Ibid., pg. 263.
6. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 1002.
7. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 604.
8. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 126.
9. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 263-264 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pp. 242-243.
10. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 264.
12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2953.
13. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 264.
14. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 604.
15. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 264-265.
16. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 604.
17. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4126.
18. The last three paragraphs are adapted from Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.
“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” I John 3:9
Barry Bremen, an insurance and novelty salesman and marketing executive became known as The Great Imposter in the the sports world. From 1979 to 1986, the 6’ 4” athletic Bremen concealed his true identity and posed as a Major League Baseball umpire in the 1980 World Series, a player in the 1979 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a player in the 1981 National Basketball Association All-Star Game, a National Football League referee in 1981, a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader in 1979, and a professional golfer in 1979-1980 and 1985. He also posed as an Emmy Award accepter in 1985 on behalf of actress Betty Thomas who was awarded the best Supporting Actress statue for her role on the police drama “Hill Street Blues.” Later Bremen apologized to Thomas, informing her he had really thought she was not there to accept her award. 1
Bremen’s stunts landed him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the David Letterman Show, and the Today Show. Bremen died of cancer in 2011 but that’s where the story begins in many ways. More than three dozen people have now learned that Bremen is their biological father, through sperm donation. They found out about each other – and Bremen – through genetic testing and the painstaking efforts of one of the children to track their lineage. 2
While Bremen was skilled at concealing his identity outwardly, his biological children discovered his true identity through genetic testing and tracking their lineage back to him. Bremen’s life is comparable to Christians who conceal their true identityas children of God by sinning, but inwardly they all possess the righteous nature or spiritual DNA of their heavenly Father.
The apostle John does not want his Christian readers to be deceived by the teachings of the antichrists (2:18-27) which said you could commit sin and still be close to God. 3
“Perhaps the antichrists felt free to sin while at the same time denying their guilt and claiming to behave righteously.” 4
He writes, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” (I John 3:7). John’s point is that “he who practices righteousness,” not sin, is what manifests that a person has an inward “righteous” standing before God through faith in Jesus (2:29; cf. Rom. 4:5). Only “righteousness” arises from a “righteous” nature.
John wrote “that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1:5). This is God’s nature – perfect holiness and perfect righteousness. God has absolutely no sin or “darkness at all.” Since God’s divine nature “is righteous,” when someone “practices righteousness,” you can know that it must be coming from God’s “righteous” nature inside that person (3:7). That is, that person must be born of God. 5
In I John 2:29, we learned that the phrase, “he who practices righteousness” is not referring to humanistic kindness or morality which even non-Christians can manifest. This “righteousness” (“what is right” translates tēn dikaiosynēn) 6 is not possible apart from believing in Christ for new birth and loving one’s fellow Christians. 7 John writes, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (I John 3:23). When someone practices Christ’s “righteous” behavior it means two things: they are born of God through belief in Jesus Christ and they are loving one another as Christ commanded.
John is telling us in I John 3:7 that a person “who practices righteousness” has been given a part of God’s divine “righteous” nature. Peter states something similar when he writes, “3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Commenting on these verses, Anderson writes, “Having His divine nature does not mean that we are exactly like God. We are not omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, and so on. But we have some of His nature, a nature given to us when we were born again, born of God. Some of His attributes cannot be passed along to us, as mentioned. But some of them we can share and He can produce through us: love, truth, holiness, and so on. His divine love (agapē) is produced by His Spirit (Gal 5:22) in our new, born-again-with, divine nature.
“The principle should be clear: Divine roots produce divine fruits. This is what should characterize the child of God.”8
The apostle John is saying to us, “Do not rationalize sin!” Rationalizing sin has been around since the fall of mankind in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7). It is a lie for Christians to think we can remain close to Christ and deliberately sin without confession or repentance. Because God is righteous and we are His children who possesses His righteous nature, we are to live righteously. We are not to be deceived into thinking we can express our born-again nature by sinning because all sin is sourced in Satan.
“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8). Satan’s sinful career dates from “the beginning” of creation. This is not a reference to eternity past since the Devil is a created being like all the angels (Gen. 2:1; Ex. 20:11; Psalm 104:4; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:7) and therefore is not eternal. 9 Sin originated with the Devil when he introduced sin into (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:11-15) God’s perfect creation (Gen. 1:31), and sin is his constant practice. 10
To be “of the devil” (ek tou diabolou) does not mean a Christian “who sins” is not saved (3:8a). John is saying that all sin, whether a Christian or non-Christian does it, is sourced in Satan. 11 Just as all genuine righteousness is sourced in God (“of God”) Who is righteous, so all sin is sourced in the devil (“of the devil”) who sinned from the beginning. To believe anything less is to prepare the grounds for tolerating sin. John wants us to understand that all our behavior either flows from heaven or hell.
“When a Christian is ‘of the devil,’ John means that, when he commits even one sinful act, in the doing of that act, even though the ultimate source was his sin nature, he has yielded to satanic influence. Or, more simply, he is acting like Satan would want him to act; according to his values. Christ exhorted us to pray that we might be delivered from the ‘evil one’ (Matthew 6:13), and Paul warned us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against ‘principalities and powers of darkness,’ and the flaming darts of ‘the evil one’ (Ephes. 6:12, 13). Even though the source of all sin is the heart and our own lusts (James 1:14), it is possible for Christian behavior to be inspired and enabled by Satan who pours gasoline on the flame.
“For example, Ananias’ and Sapphira’s hearts were ‘filled’ by Satan. They were ‘of the devil’ when they lied to the Holy Spirit. When Jesus told Peter, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ (Mark 8:33), it was evident that Peter’s behavior was ‘of the devil’ (characterized by Satan’s influence) in that one act.” 12
If we are honest with ourselves, we have all tried to rationalize specific sins in our lives. We may try to justify sin by saying to ourselves, “God made me this way.” “It is only a weakness.” “It won’t hurt anyone.” “No one has to know.” “Everyone is doing it.” “This is the only way I can endure stress or face pain.” “I cannot change.” No matter how we attempt to rationalize our sin, John wants us to realize that when we do sin, we are imitating the devil who sinned from the beginning.
“How, then, can a believer do what is right (3:7b) and commit sin (3:8a) in the space of a few seconds? Consider Peter. He boldly confessed that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus blessed him because God had revealed it to him (see Matt 16:13-17). However, in no time, Jesus told Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan,’ when he denied that Christ must suffer (Matt 16:21-23).
“Throughout each day, your actions will either be influenced by God or the devil. Satan can’t make you sin, but he can entice you. So, to whom will you listen? Will you be ‘of the devil’ so that he gets credit for your deeds? Or will you live by the truth, come to the light, and do works for which God gets the credit (see John 3:21)? Turn to Christ who can render powerless the devil’s works in your life (1 John 3:8). To avoid living a life that is not of God takes more than merely carrying your Bible and saying, ‘hallelujah.’ It requires doing what is right and loving fellow believers in submission to the Holy Spirit (3:10).” 13
John also wants us to realize that when we sin, we are opposing Christ’s work: “For thispurpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (3:8b). What are “the works of the devil”? In the context, we are told that “he who sins is of the devil” (3:8a) and the person “that does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (3:10b). Hence, Satan’s works include all sin, especially refusing to “practice righteousness” by loving one’s Christian “brother.”
The primary way Christ destroys the works of the devil is seen in the next verse: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (I John 3:9). The way that Christ destroys the work of the devil (3:8) is to give believers a new sinless self (“seed”) which cannot sin. Since God cannot sin, the divine nature He places inside His children cannot sin either. A sinless Parent cannot beget a sinful child. So, sin is never an act of the born-again nature inside us because it is incapable of sinning (3:9) and because all sin is sourced in the devil (3:8).
However, some Bible teachers and translators interpret the Greek present tense of 3:9 to mean no Christian sins continually or habitually (see discussion of 3:6). According to this view, prolonged continuation in sin does not take place if one is truly born again. The NIV translation reflects this view inserting the words “will continue” and “go on” in front of the present tense verbs: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” (I John 3:9 NIV). As pointed out previously in 3:6, this view is not plausible because habitual or continuous action is not inherent in the Greek present tense.The translators have added these additional words based on their theological point of view, not a careful study of the Greek grammar. 14
J. P. Louw has demonstrated convincingly that the present tense in John’s first epistle does not mean continuous or habitual action. 15 It is best to understand the present tense in I John 3:9 in an absolute sense (“Whoever has been born of God does not sin… he cannot sin”) because the present tense (“does not sin… cannot sin”) in the New Testament never bears the habitual meaning (“will continue to sin… cannot go on sinning”) without the assistance of qualifying words like diapantos (“continually”- Luke 24:53; Heb 9:6; 13:15); eis to diēnekes (“continually”- Heb 7:3; 10:1); 16 or pantote (“always”). First John 3:9 has no qualifying words.
This use of the absolute present tense is consistent with John’s refutation of the antichrists’ tolerance of sin. John has already said there is absolutely no sin in God (1:5), in Jesus (3:5), and in the born-again nature of the believer (3:9). 17
In 3:9, John states that the person “born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him.” “His seed” refers to God’s nature.
“His divine nature is passed down through His divine seed. The new birth places His seed in us.Just as my physical seed cannot produce something outside its genetic code, so God’s seed cannot produce something contrary to His nature, that is, sin. God’s nature cannot produce sin. God’s nature in us (His seed) cannot produce sin.”18
It is important to realize that sin is never an act of the true born-again nature that a person receives from God when they believe in Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12-13) because it is incapable of sin (I John 3:9) and because all sin is sourced in the devil (I John 3:8). The apostle Paul refers to this born-again nature as the “new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”(Ephes. 4:24; cf. Col. 3:10),“the inward man” (Rom. 7:22), or “the law of the mind” (Rom. 7:23).
Many have wondered how this understanding can harmonize with John’s statement in I John 1:8 that Christians who say they have no sin are self-deceived. Hodges explains:
“In 1:8 John warns, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ But in 3:9 he says, ‘whoever has been born of God does not sin.’ As total persons, believers do sin and can never claim to be free of it, but their ‘inward self’ that is regenerated does not sin.
“In describing his struggle with sin Paul notes that two diverse impulses are at work. So, he can say, ‘For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members’ (Rom 7:22-23). Previous to this he had concluded, ‘Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me’ (v 20). His conclusion is simple; ‘So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin’ (v 24). At the core of his being (in his inward man) he does not and cannot sin. The inward man (the ‘regenerate self’) is absolutely impervious to sin, fully enslaved to God’s will. If sin occurs, it is not the inward man who performs it.
“Sin does exist in the Christian, but it is foreign and extraneous to his regenerated inner self, where Christ dwells in perfect holiness. Since Christ is eternal life (1 John 5:20), the one who possesses that life cannot sin because he is born of God. The divine seed (sperma) of that life remains (menō, ‘abides,’ ‘stays’) in him who is born again, making sin an impossibility at the level of his regenerate inward self.” 19
Comparing John’s statements to Paul’s in Romans 7:14-25, Anderson writes, “The evil which I do is done by me, but not really; it is done by my sin(ful) nature. So, the divine good which I do is not done by me; it is done by my divine nature. Both of these Natures dwell in the child of God simultaneously. However, even though the sin(ful) nature from our ‘B.C. days’ stays with us after we are born again (as does our physical body, our personality, our core intelligence, et cetera), the addition of God’s divine nature with the indwelling Holy Spirit changes our identity forever. We are radically, fundamentally different from the Old Man (all we were before we met Christ or were born-again). We now have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). ‘For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man’ (Rom 7:22). When I obey the lusts of the flesh, my new inner man (the divine nature) is disgusted and repulsed. I can only cry out with Paul, ‘Oh, wretched man that I am!’ when I choose to follow the lead of my sinful side.
“This inner disgust was not present in my Old Man. Conviction from the Holy Spirit, yes; disgust and anguish such as Paul was reeling from in Rom 7:24, no. The new creature in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) knows that when the believer knowingly sins, he is not acting in accordance with this fundamental change which has taken place within him when he was born-again. He longs with the mind of Christ to act in harmony with his new identity. In fact, that is the only way he can manifest or make visible who really is a child of the King.” 20
After years of studying the New Testament, I have not been able to find any verses which explicitly say our new, regenerate self needs to be transformed into the likeness of Christ before being translated into God’s presence at death or the Rapture of the Church. Why? Because our regenerate self is already sinless (I John 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 5:8; Ephes. 4:24; Phil. 1:21-23). But our physical bodies in which our born-again self dwells are still unredeemed and will not be transformed into the glorious likeness of Jesus’ resurrection body until He returns for His Church (I John 3:2; cf. Rom. 8:23; I Cor. 15:51-54; Phil 3:20-21; I Thess. 4:14-17). Then and only then will our bodies fully manifest our regenerate self.
The apostles John and Paul want us to understand that sin is foreign to who we are in Christ (I John 3:9; cf. Rom. 7:17-20; Gal. 2:20). But Satan wants to convince us that we are sinners. Why? Because sinning is accepted as natural and normal. But if we realize we are children of God at the core of our being (I John 3:1-9), then we will conclude that sinning is abnormal and unnatural to our Christian lives. Sin is inconsistent with who we are at the core of our being. It conceals our true identity in Christ which is what John addresses in the next verse.
“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God.” (I John 3:10a). This part of the verse makes the most sense if we understand it to be the conclusion of what John said previously. Hence, the words “in this” refer back to I John 2:29 – 3:9 where John talks about expressing or manifesting our born-again nature by practicing righteousness. The last part of verse 10 looks forward to expressing our born-again nature by loving our Christian brother (3:11-4:19). Both discussions are intended by John to motivate his Christian readers to prepare to have more confidence and less shame at the time of Christ’s coming (2:28).
The key word in 3:10a is the word translated “manifest” (phanera) which means to be “visible” or “plainly…seen.”21 According to I John 2:29-3:9, a Christian can “manifest” or make visible the “righteous” born-again nature given to him or her at new birth by practicing righteousness. On the flip side, a Christian can conceal his or her born-again nature by not practicing righteousness.
Hodges writes, “Because a child of God is sinless at the core of his being, he can never be‘manifest’ through sin as can a child of the devil. While an unsaved person can display his truenature through sin, a child of God cannot. When a Christian sins, he conceals who he really is rather than making it manifest. If the readers perceive someone doing real righteousness, then-but only then-can they perceive this action as a true product of new birth (2:29) and can thus behold God’s love (3:1). This consideration is crucial to John’s advancing argument”22 whereby he defines “righteousness primarily in terms of Christian brotherly love and to show how such love properly expresses itself.” 23
John is saying to Christians in 3:10a, “Express your true self!” The phrase “children of the devil” can refer to both saved and unsaved. Nowhere does the Bible say one is “born of the devil,” “for ‘the devil begets none, nor does he create any; but whoever imitates the devilbecomes a child of the devil by imitating him, not by proper birth’ [Augustine, Tract, 4. 10].” 24
“Those who are of the devil, either saved or unsaved, do the devil’s work by opposing the truth (cf. Matt. 13:38; 16:23; John 8:44; Acts 13:10; 2 John 9). One form of opposing the truth is disregarding it. Saved people are of the devil in the sense that sometimes they follow the devil’s leading and do his work, though they no longer belong to the devil. An example of those who are of the devil is the antichrists (plural) that John previously warned about (2:22-23). Jesus called the unbelieving Jews the children of ‘your father the devil’ (John 8:44)”25 because they opposed the truth Jesus revealed to them about their sinfulness and His identity as the Son of God Who can set them free from bondage to sin (John 8:32-47).
Whenever we sin, we are behaving like children of the devil, since all sin is sourced in him (3:8). The phrase “children of God” can only refer to saved people because the Bible does say only those who believe that Jesus is the Christ are born of God (I John 5:1). Children of God can only express who they really are when they live righteously.
This does not mean, however, that when a Christian sins he is not a child of God regardless of how long or often he sins. But when he does sin, he is only revealing what he was before he was born again through faith in Christ. It does not mean he was never born again with a divine nature. But it does mean he is keeping the divine nature hidden.26
“A psychiatrist thought he would do an experiment on self-image, so he got ten volunteers, brought them into his office one at a time, and briefed each on his assignment. He explained to them, ‘I want to see how people will respond to someone with a hideous, ugly deformity.’ Then the psychiatrist brought in a make-up artist who put an ugly scar on the right cheek of each volunteer. Before sending the volunteer out, they got a chance to look at themselves in a mirror. After the volunteer had gotten a good look, the mirror was taken away and the make-up artist was told to put the final touches of make-up on the scar. But, unknown to the volunteer, the makeup artist was instructed to pull the scar away before sending the volunteer out. The volunteer did not look any different when he left than when he had come in.
“Each volunteer was told to sit for twenty minutes in the waiting room with other patients toobserve their reactions to the phantom deformity of the volunteer. Then their job was to comeback into the psychiatrist’s office after observing the reactions and report how people had treated them. Ten different volunteers, with ten different perspectives resulted in reports that were all the same. According to the volunteers who thought they had ugly scars on their cheeks, the other patients in the waiting room were rude to them. People shunned them, and worst of all, if you can believe it, the other patients stared straight at the scars—the scars that weren’t actually there.
“The point of the experiment was to demonstrate that other people react to us in response to how we see ourselves. When you look inside yourself, what do you see—a big, hideous scar, or the Lion of the Tribe of Judah? When you look into the mirror, do you see a prairie chicken or a golden eagle?” 27
How we see ourselves determines how we live. The apostle John wants his Christian readers, including you and me, to see themselves as children of God who possess a sinless born-again nature (God’s “seed”) at the core of their being so they will manifest this righteous nature by living righteously. This type of Christian is represented by the image on the left. He or she is visibly manifesting God’s righteous nature inside them by doing what is right. However, this is not what gets them to heaven. Only believing that Jesus is the Christ makes us born of God (I John 5:1). But manifesting our true identity by practicing Christ’s righteous behavior will give us more confidence and less shame before Jesus when He returns for His church (2:28).
On the other hand, a Christian who is yielding to his or her sinful flesh is hiding their new born-again nature inside them. This type of believer is represented by the drawing on the right. He is behaving like a child of the devil when he sins, since all sin is sourced in Satan (3:8). Failure to manifest their new nature through their actions does not jeopardize their salvation, but it does disrupt their fellowship with God and other believers. It will also reduce their confidence and increase their shame before Christ when He returns for His church (2:28).
Remember Barry Bremen? He concealed his identity from others by wearing disguises. But he was unable to hide his identity from his children who possessed the same genetic code as his. Likewise, Christians can conceal their born-again nature from others by sinning. But this in no way erases the spiritual genetic code or divine nature God gave them the moment they believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. Such a nature cannot be lost; but it can be hidden from others when we fail to live righteously for our Lord.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the righteous born-again nature You gave us the moment we believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. Please help us manifest this nature by living life on Your terms and not our own so others can be drawn to Christ living in us. Too often we can yield to our sinful nature instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to express our new nature through righteous living. When this happens, the evil one would like to trick us into thinking that we are not really Your children after we have sinned, thus leading us into more sin. Help us to know and embrace the truth found in 1 John 3:1-10 – that we are Your children at the core of our being – so we can avoid the devil’s deception and rise from our confession to You knowing we are the same inwardly holy children we were before we sinned. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
3. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 595.
4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3824.
5. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 156-157.
6. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3771.
7. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 594.
8. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 157.
9. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 595.
10. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3827.
11. The Greek phrase ek tou diabolou is an ablative genitive of source which is the use of the genitive throughout verses 3:8-10. Hence, the genitive phrase “is not of God” (ouk estin ek tou Theou) in 3:10b means that a Christian who does not practice righteousness nor love his brother does not have actions that are sourced in God – see Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3855 and Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 500.
12. Dillow, Final Destiny, pg. 500.
13. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2943.
14. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 146, 151.
15. Ibid., pg. 151 cites J. P. Louw, “Verbal Aspect in the First Letter of John,” Neotestamentica 9 (1975): 99-101); cf. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3804 to 3809 who cites Sakae Kubo, “1 John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” Andrews University Seminary Studies 7 (1969):47-56; C.H. Dodd, The ]ohannine Epistles, Moffatt New Testament Commentary series (New York: Harper and Row, 1946), pp. 78-81; I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, New International Commentary on the New Testament series, Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 80.
16. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 151; Dillow, Final Destiny, pg. 493 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary (Irving, TX; Grace Evangelical Society Theological Society, 1999), pg. 143.
17. Dillow, Final Destiny, pg. 491.
18. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 159.
19. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pp. 595-596.
20. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pp. 159-160.
21. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 1047.
22. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3844 to 3849.
23. Ibid., Kindle Location 3849.
24. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 76 cites Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset; and David Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), pg. 1504.
“Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” I John 3:6
In the body of his epistle the apostle John explains how we can have more confidence and less shame at the time of Christ’s coming (2:28-4:19). He begins by providing some practical teaching about our new identity in Christ (3:1-10). Since God is righteous by nature (2:29), we can now share in His righteousness through the new birth which has changed who we are at the core of our being. We are now God’s children (3:1a). The world does not understand this new nature because they have not experienced the new birth (3:1b). John goes on to explain that the time is coming when this new nature will be the only nature we manifest because our sinful nature will be taken away and we will receive a new glorified body like that of the Lord Jesus at the time of His return (3:2; cf. Phil. 3:20-21). The certainty that we will be completely conformed (both spiritually and physically) into the image of Christ in the future motivates us to live for the Lord now (3:3).
John wants his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) to change the way they think about sin (3:4-6) because sin can rob Christians of the abundant life Jesus came to give them on earth (cf. John 10:10). Notice I did not say that sin can rob a Christian of heaven. 1 Entering heaven is based on believing in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross which finished paying our sin debt to God in full (I John 5:1, 13; cf. John 3:5-18, 36; 19:30). The book of I John is about how to have fellowship or intimacy with Christ (1:3-4), not about how to get to heaven. John’s concern is that the antichrists or false teachers (2:18-27) were trying to “deceive” John’s readers not to take sin seriously (3:7), 2 which would disrupt their fellowship with God. Hence, John begins this section by addressing the character of sin.
He writes, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” (I John 3:4). Sin is the very opposite of Christ’s purity and the hope believers have of becoming like Him (3:2-3). All “sin” (hamartia) is “lawlessness” (anomia) 3 or wickedness. 4 When a Christian (or non-Christian) sins, he or she becomes a lawbreaker. It does not matter if you sin once or a thousand times; sin is an act of rebellion against God. 5
The apostle wants to open our eyes to the wickedness of sin. It is revolting to God whether it is a little white lie or a violent murder. It sickens God to look at our sin because He is completely holy, and sin is the exact opposite of His holiness. It also sickens God to see Christians tolerate sin in their lives as though it were no big deal. We may justify our sin by telling ourselves, “No one is perfect.” “Everyone is doing it.”“No one will ever know, so it won’t hurt anyone.”
Look at the contrast between man’s rationalization of sin and God’s repulsion of sin:
Man calls it an accident; God calls it an abomination.
Man calls it a blunder; God calls it blindness.
Man calls it a defect; God calls it a disease.
Man calls it a chance; God calls it a choice.
Man calls it an error; God calls it enmity.
Man calls it a fascination; God calls it a fatality.
Man calls it infirmity; God calls it iniquity.
Man calls it luxury; God calls it leprosy.
Man calls it liberty; God calls it lawlessness.
Man calls it a trifle; God calls it a tragedy.
Man calls it a mistake; God calls it madness.
Man calls it a weakness; God calls it wickedness. 6
Instead of rationalizing our sin, God want us to confess and forsake it (Prov. 28:13). Again, this is not to get to heaven, but to have intimate fellowship with the Lord on earth. The consequences of not taking sin seriously can be deadly. Anderson illustrates this:
“There is a small tree which grows in SE Asia known as the Judas-tree. Long before its leaves appear, gorgeous blossoms grow on its branches. Looking like scarlet sunbeams caught among the boughs, the brilliant beauty of the crimson flowers attracts thousands of tiny insects. The wild bees also seek to draw honey from the exquisitely shaped cups.
“But every insect—bee or butterfly—that comes to rest upon the edge of its blossom is overcome by a fatal, curious sort of opiate, or drug, which the flower- juice contains, and drops dead upon the ground below! So, when walking around Judas-trees, a person sees the soft grass covered with dead and dying, bright-winged insects.
“The Judas-tree reminds us of sin. Sin may look bright, pleasant, and attractive to our eyes; it may appear harmless to indulge in it. But lurking behind the “pleasure of sin” is a fatal poison. And sin is a poison, a wickedness that acts as a drug to take away all our motivation for the Christian life, or worse. Wickedness: that’s the character of sin.” 7
Failure to take sin seriously conflicts with the purpose and purity of Jesus Christ Who came to completely remove sin from our lives. Sin is antichrist. John writes, “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” (I John 3:5). Jesus not only came to save us from the full penalty of our sins when He died on the cross (John 19:30; Rom. 5:9a, 10a; 6:23a; I Cor. 15:3), but He rose from the dead to live inside us to save us from the power of sin in our daily Christian lives (Rom. 5:9b, 10b; James 1:21-25). The day is coming in eternity when Christ will deliver us from the presence of sin in our lives forever (I John 3:2; Rev. 21:4).
The reason Jesus is qualified to do all this for us is because “in Him there is no sin”(3:5b). There was absolutely no sin in the perfect Son of God because He is fully God (I John 5:20; cf. John 1:1, 34, 49; 5:16-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 11:27; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; et al.) and fully Man (I John:1:1-2; 4:2-3; cf. John 1:14; 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; I Tim. 2:5).It took a perfect sacrifice to satisfy God’s holy demand to punish the sins of the world. And Jesus was the only Person qualified for the job (I John 2:1-2; cf. John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; I Pet. 3:18).
Although every Christian has sin in their lives (I John 1:7-8, 10), sin is abnormal and unnatural to the Christian life (Rom. 6:1-4). In fact, it is contrary to the purity of Jesus Christ (I John 3:3, 5). Therefore, it must not be condoned or tolerated in a believer’s life.
A few years ago, my family and I visited a church in North Dakota during the summer that was part of a German community. I was so impressed with how everyone seemed to be concerned about the cleanliness of their town. All the lawns were neatly mowed, and the sidewalks were swept and free of grass trimmings. Flowers were strategically planted without a weed in sight. There were no beer cans laying around nor any garbage on the side of the roads. People seemed to take a lot of pride in keeping their community looking clean and tidy.
When we left that place, I wondered what would happen if I showed more concern for the cleanliness of my heart than those people showed for their community? Inward cleanliness leads to outward cleanliness in the eyes of the apostle John. The righteous nature of God which was given to us the moment we believed in Christ (Rom. 4:5; I John 2:29; 5:1, 13), is to be manifested outwardly in our practice – not so we can get to heaven, but so God is glorified before people on earth (cf. Matt. 5:16).
Failure to take sin seriously is contrary to abiding in Christ Who is a sinless Person. “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” (I John 3:6). John has just said there is absolutely “no sin” in Jesus(3:5). It follows that a Christian who “abides in” Christ (a sinless Person), absolutely “does not sin” (3:6). John is saying that sin is never the product of having fellowship or intimacy with Christ (“abides in Him”).Remember “abides” (menō) is one of John’s favorite words for fellowship or intimacy with Jesus.
Unfortunately, many Bible interpreters fail to see this logical connection between the absolute present tenses in verses 5 and 6.They conclude that verse 6 means if a person who claims to be a Christian continues to sin, he or she is not truly saved. The NIV translation conveys this interpretation by inserting the words “keeps on” and “continues” in front of the present tense verbs: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (I John 3:6 NIV). However, continual action is not inherent in the Greek present tense. The translators have added these additional words based on their theological point of view, not a careful study of the Greek grammar. 8
“For example, Jesus refers to His single act of coming to the earth at His incarnation in the present tense in John 6:33 when He says, ‘For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Is there anyone who would like to tell us that the present tense here means continuous action, that is, that Jesus is continually coming down from heaven? I don’t think so. The present tense can mean continuous action, but that is only one of its ten different uses, and it’s a fairly rare usage. There need to be other indicators in the context of the verb before we conclude that the meaning is continuous action.” 9
“It cannot be shown anywhere in the New Testament that the present tense can bear this kind of meaning without the assistance of other words.”10
It is best to understand I John 3:6a in an absolute sense (“no one who abides in Him sins”) because the present tense (“no one… sins”) in the New Testament never bears the habitual meaning (“no one keeps on sinning”) without the assistance of qualifying words like diapantos (“continually”- Luke 24:53; Heb 9:6; 13:15); eis to diēnekes (“continually”- Heb 7:3; 10:1); 11or pantote (“always”). First John 3:6a has no qualifying words.
In the immediate context John affirms that “in Him (Christ) there is no sin” (3:5). Clearly this is an absolute denial of sin in God’s Son. Therefore, the present tense in 3:6a is also an absolute denial of sin in the person who abides in Christ. One cannot abide in a sinless Person (3:5) and sin at the same time.
To say that verse 6 means a genuine Christian will not continue to sin contradicts I John 1:8 which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Since John includes himself and the other apostles with the use of the word “we” in this verse (1:8; cf. 1:1-7), he must be referring to genuine Christians who say they have no sin and are thus self-deceived. 12 Both I John 1:8 and 3:6 refer to genuine Christians.
But what does John mean when he says, “Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (I John 3:6b)? To properly understand John’s meaning, we need to turn to the Greek grammar like we did in I John 2:3-4. Once again, the apostle John uses the Greek perfect tense with the verbs “seen” (heōraken) and “known” (egnōken). You may recall that with “verbs describing a state of being (to know) as opposed to verbs of action (to hit), the perfect tense expresses an intensified state. In other words, ‘to know’ in the perfect tense becomes ‘to know intensively’ or intimately. ‘To see’ in the perfect tense becomes ‘to see very closely.’”13
John is telling us that “whoeversins” (a Christian or non-Christian) – whether it is once or a thousand times – means he or she “has neither seen” Christ closely “nor known Him” intimately. These verbs describe close fellowship with Christ. Sin is never the result of having intimate fellowship with Jesus. When a person “abides” in Christ, he or she has “seen” Him more closely and “known” Him more intimately. Sin is never the product of seeing and knowing Christ in a fellowship sense.
John is not saying that a person who sins has “never” seen or known God. For example, if you see a person with a starving look on his or her face, you can conclude they have not eaten recently, but you cannot conclude they have never eaten. A person sins in the “darkness” (1:6) where he or she is not seeing or knowing God more intimately. Sin is a result of blindness or ignorance toward God. But this does not mean he or she has never walked “in the light” (1:7) where God is seen or known more intimately.
Someone may argue that this absolute denial of sin in the person who abides in Christ also contradicts I John 1:8 which says a Christian who denies he has sin is self-deceived. Hodges comments, “First John 1:8 makes it clear that no Christian can ever claim to be experientially completely free from sin in this life. But at the same time the experience of ‘abiding in Him’ is a sinless experience. One area of obedience is not ‘contaminated’ by the presence of sin in other areas. If a person obeys the command to love his brother, that obedience is not tainted in God’s sight by some different sort of failure in the life, such as a lack of watchfulness in prayer (cf. Eph 6:18).
“When a believer is walking in fellowship with God, He is able to look past all his failures and sin and see the actual obedience that is there. In 1:7 John explained that even while walking in the light, there is cleansing going on by virtue of the blood of Christ. As a believer walks in the light and does what God commands, God sees him as one who is totally cleansed and is without any charge of unrighteousness.
“Thus, when a believer abides in Him, the positive obedience is what God takes account of and recognizes. The sin that still remains is not in any sense sourced in the abiding life, and that sin is cleansed in accord with 1:7. The experience of ‘abiding’ is therefore equivalent to obedience.”14
Hodges also writes, “The fact remains, however, that Christians do not experience the sinless life perfectly on this earth; hence 1:8, 10 remain true. The two ideas are not really incompatible. The Christian still experiences a genuine struggle with the flesh and overcomes its impulses only by the help of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16-26).
“Paul’s thinking also conforms with this view. In his struggle with sin, he was able to conclude, ‘Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it’ (Rom. 7:20). In this way Paul could perceive sin as not a real part of what he was at the most inward level of his being (cf. Rom. 7:25). When he wrote, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20), he implied the same thing. If Christ alone really lives, sin can be no part of that experience. Insofar as God is experienced by a believer, that experience is sinless.” 15
In summary, God wants us to take sin more seriously because…
The character of sin is repulsive to God (3:4).
Sin conflicts with the purpose and purity of Christ (3:5).
Sin is contrary to abiding in Christ (3:6).
To knowingly and willfully sin makes us a stranger to Jesus Christ because Christ is sinless. One cannot abide in a sinless Person and sin. Sin is never the product of abiding in Christ. That is, one cannot deliberately sin and be close to Christ at the same time. A believer in close fellowship with Christ wants sin out of his life. But a Christian who takes sin lightly in his life does not know Christ intimately. If he did, he would take sin more seriously.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for wanting us to take sin more seriously because it can rob us of the joy of seeing You more closely and knowing You more intimately. Too often we can take sin lightly because we are not in fellowship with You. If we were close to You, we would be sickened by our sin as You are. Please help us to see You more closely and to know You more intimately so we will want sin out of our lives. Our sin is a big deal because it caused Jesus to suffer and die in our place on a cross so we could be forgiven when we believe in Him. By Your grace, may each of us abide in Christ and have close fellowship with Him so we can live a life that is honoring to You. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 145.
2. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3795.
3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 85.
4. Anderson notes, “This Greek word is used to translate twenty-four different Hebrew words in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT). Most frequently it is used to translate the Hebrew word ‘awon, which means “wickedness” or “iniquity” (Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 147).
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2942.
6. Anderson, Maximum John, pp. 147-148.
7. Ibid., pg. 148.
8. Ibid., pg. 151.
9. Ibid., pp. 146-147.
10. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3805 to 3809.
11. Anderson, pg. 151.
12. Ibid., pg. 145.
13. Ibid., pg. 150; cf. K. L. McKay, “On the Perfect and Other Aspects in the New Testament Greek,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 23, Fasc. 4 (Brill: 1981), pp. 289-329.
14. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 595.
15. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3818 to 3822.
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” I John 3:2
The apostle John has just spoken about how a born-again person can make himself visible by practicing righteousness (2:29). The thought of new birth brings an exclamation of wonder from John: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (I John 3:1). When John uses the word for “Behold” (Idete), he is saying to “stop whatever you are doing and pay attention” 1 to or “look with wonder at the amazing love that God has toward us in that we should be called His children.” The Greek word for “what manner of” (potapēn) sometimes conveys a sense of intensification, like “how great,” “how wonderful,” or “how glorious.” 2John wants us to pause and focus on how glorious the love of God toward us is. 3
God “the Father” expressed His “love” toward us by placing us in His family the moment we believed in Jesus “that we should be called children of God!” (cf. John 1:12). Believers in Jesus are “called children of God” because they are born-ones (tekna) of “the Father.”4 If we see a child of God manifesting Christ’s righteous behavior (2:29), we can look at him as the recipient of God’s marvelous love (3:1a).
Few verses in the Bible are as beautiful as this one. For believers to experience victory in their Christian lives, they need to know Who their Daddy is! God is their perfect heavenly Father, and He does not share any of the failures or weaknesses of their earthly fathers. In addition, He is the King of creation which makes us royalty. 5
“John is slowly getting around to the new nature we have in Christ. He is saying that God’s nature is righteous. So, we can be born of God and share in His nature. We can be righteous. It stupefies John that God would love us enough to let us share in His nature. This is the same nature that came into Mary in the form of Jesus and was born on Christmas. Part of this same divine nature was passed along to us at new birth. It has changed our entire character and make-up. Now we are truly the children of God. That’s who we really are.”6
It is an awesome privilege to be called God’s child. When we stop to ponder our new identity in Christ – that we are God’s children – it will take our breath away. When you believe in Christ, you are born of God and share in His divine righteous nature (cf. John 1:12; I John 2:29; 3:9; 5:1). At the core of your being you are God’s child no matter what you or others do, say, or think.
Many of us may believe the lie that says, “I am what I do.” We tell ourselves that what I do determines who I am. So, if I sin, I must be a sinner. What Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), tries to do is deceive us to believe this lie. Hence, when I sin, he whispers the lie that I am a sinner so I will perceive that sin is the normal and natural outgrowth of who I truly am at the core of my being. But listen to what God says: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him” (I John 5:18).
Our born-again self (“whoever is born of God”), John tells us, “does not sin.” Sin can never be traced back to my new identity in Christ. At the core of my being, I am now God’s dearly beloved child through faith alone in Christ alone (I John 5:1; cf. John 1:12). I am defined by what God says about me, not by what I do. Satan cannot “touch” or defeat our born-again nature (I John 5:18). This is important to remember especially after being humbled by our sinful failures.
The evil one would like to trick us into thinking that we are not really God’s children after we have failed, thus leading us into more failures. But if we know and embrace the truth found in I John 3:1 and 5:18, we can avoid the devil’s deception, and rise from our confession of sin to the Lord (cf. I John 1:9) knowing we are the same inwardly holy children we were before we sinned.
God is righteous and we can now share in His righteousness. This new birth has changed who we are. We are now God’s child having been begotten by Him. However, it should not take us by surprise when the world looks at us and fails to perceive that we are children of God. Why? Because the world did not “know” (ginōskō) Christ (or God the Father) experientially, 7 they cannot recognize His children either (I John 3:1b). Since they do not know the Divine Parent, they do not know His children either. 8
The world does not know what it is like for a Christian to be given a new righteous nature from God because the world has not experienced God in this way. Anderson explains, “Until someone has experienced the new birth, it’s even hard to explain what it is like to have this new nature within. But in verse two John goes on to explain that one day this new nature is the only nature that we will manifest.”9
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2). The word “Beloved” (agapētoi) connects back to the thought of verse one where Christians are described as the recipients of the glorious love of God the Father who regards them as His children. 10 Verse two informs us that believers in Jesus now have a new spiritual nature (“now we are children of God”) that is invisible to the world (“it has not yet been revealed what we shall be”).This suggests that there is no physical transformation from the new birth.
Believers in Christ will not undergo a physical transformation which outwardly manifests their spiritual birth until Jesus “is revealed.” The word translated “revealed” (phaneróō) twice in this verse is also the same word translated “appears” (phanerōthē) in I John 2:28. When Jesus “appears,” what believers “shall be” will “appear” too. Since “we shall be like” Christ physically when He returns for His church (cf. Phil. 3:20-21),Christians do not want to “be ashamed before Him” now (2:28; cf. 4:17-19). 11
The reason we “shall be like” Jesus physically when He appears is because “we shall see Him as He is.” The moment we see the Lord Jesus in all His glory when He returns in the air for His church, our sinful nature will be taken away and Christ will automatically transform our physical bodies into the likeness of Christ’s glorious resurrection body (Phil. 3:20-21; I Cor. 15:51-54). 12
Could anyone but God miraculously transform a person physically into His own glorious likeness who looks at Him? This argues for the deity of Jesus Christ. If Jesus were a mere human, how could He miraculously transform another human being into His glorious likeness!?! It would not happen. But the fact that Christ is God (I John 5:20; cf. John 1:1; Titus 2:13) explains how seeing Him when He returns in glory can change us physically into His own glorious likeness.
Looking at a mere human being does not change our physical bodies. If I was to behold President Biden or evangelist Franklin Graham in person, my physical body would not be changed into their likeness. There is no human being on earth that could do that to us. But Jesus Christ can and will when He returns for His church at any moment because He is Lord of all!
Such a transforming look agrees with what Paul taught about our present spiritual transformation which takes place as we behold Christ’s glory in the Scriptures: 13“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18). In the context, the “mirror” Paul has in mind is the Scripture (2 Cor. 3:12-16; cf. James 1:21-25). As a Christian approaches the Bible openly with the eyes of faith (“with unveiled face”), he or she sees the reflection of Christ’s glory in the “mirror” of the Bible which transforms him or her “from” one stage of Christ’s “glory to” to the next stage of Christ’s “glory” through the power of God’s “Spirit.”14
“Can you think of anything more wonderful than seeing Jesus? We have sung about Him, talked about Him, studied about Him, communicated with Him, but the grand climax will be when we see Him.”15
The prospect of being physically transformed into the glorious likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ when we see Him at the time of His appearing can have a purifying effect on a Christian’s life now. John writes, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (I John 3:3). One of the best ways for Christians to purify themselves from sin now is to focus on “this hope” of Christ’s return at any moment and the accompanying physical and spiritual transformation that will occur with it.
Anderson writes, “That John speaks of this hope as a purifying hope is one of the reasons we believe the rapture will occur before the Tribulation begins. If the rapture takes place after the Tribulation, as many teach, I could wait until the middle of the Tribulation to start cleaning up my act. I could just wait around until the Man of Sin reveals himself, and then I could start getting serious about my Christian life. After all, I could count the days until His appearing. It will be 1260 days from the revelation of the Antichrist.
“No, we believe the NT teaches Christ can come for His bride at any moment. We don’t know when that will be.” 16
To illustrate this, let’s say you are a close friend of President Biden and he said he planned to drop in to see you on one of his frequent trips to Delaware. You ask, “Do you know when that will be?” “Why?” he asks, “Well, I want to make sure the house is clean when you come.” “Oh,” he says, “Well I want to surprise you. Just keep it clean.”17 That’s what the apostle John is saying in I John 3:2-3.
The promise that Jesus Christ could return for His church at any moment is one of the greatest reasons for us to live for Jesus now. Focusing on Christ’s any-time-return “purifies” us inwardly so we can have confidence and not be ashamed before Him when He appears.
Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for the amazing way You have given Your love to us by declaring that at the core of our being we are Your dearly loved children no matter what we or others say, think, or do. Since we are Your children, we have all we need (Your nature, Your Spirit, and Your Word) to manifest Your righteous and loving nature. The world does not know what it is like for us to be given a new spiritual nature because they have not experienced You in this way. The day is coming, however, when we will undergo a physical transformation which outwardly manifests our spiritual birth at the time of Christ’s coming for His church. Help us focus on this hope of Christ’s return at any moment which purifies us inwardly from sin now so we can have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. Lord God, please lead us to those without Christ so we may share the gospel with them so they may believe in Him for His gift of eternal life. Then they too can prepare to face Christ with confidence at His coming. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1.Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 720.
2. Ibid., pg. 856.
3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 137.
4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3780.
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2941.
6. Anderson, pp. 137-138.
7. The Greek word translated “know” (ginōskō) refers to experiential knowledge (see Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 205650 to 205667.
8. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 69.
9. Anderson, pg. 138.
10. Zane C. Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 594.
14. See Zane C. Hodges’ helpful discussion on 2 Corinthians 3:18 in his book Six Secrets of the Christian Life (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 15-19.
15. Constable, pg. 70 cites J. Allen Blair, The Epistles of John: Devotional Studies on Living Confidently (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1982), pg. 92.
“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” I John 2:12
Weapons of warfare have changed considerably since the day the apostle John wrote his first epistle. While Romans soldiers in the first century fought with swords and spears, they would be no match for our Special Ops today that use the M4 carbine rifle, a shortened version of the standard U.S. M16 with a detachable 40mm grenade launcher mounted beneath the barrel. The weapon can also mount a night-vision sight, and some troops carry night-vision goggles with them. A soldier on sniper duty might lug a heavy Barrett .50 caliber rifle that can hit targets a mile away with a bullet stout enough to pierce armor. Some soldiers carry the M3 Carl Gustav reusable launcher, a bazooka that fires antipersonnel and antitank rockets. 1
But a Christian’s weapons have not changed. Our enemy remains the same in spiritual warfare and so do our weapons regardless of what century we live in. But the tactics of the enemy can vary from situation to situation, but the weapons that bring us victory remain unchanged.
The book of I John is primarily about having fellowship with God, not about going to heaven; it is about our practice, not our position. But understanding and believing our position in Christ is foundational for victorious Christian living. For example, in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in the city of Ephesus, he first presents the truth about our position in Christ (Ephes. 1-3) before addressing our practice of that truth (Ephes. 4-6). Paul knows that it is essential to know and believe our position in Christ if we are to effectively live it out. 2
The apostle John is preparing his readers for spiritual warfare. Christians face three primary enemies: the devil (Ephes. 2:2b; 6:12; I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:9), the world (John 15:18-19; Ephes. 2:2a), and our sin (Ephes. 2:3; James 1:14-15). John addressed our sin in I John 1:5-2:2. He is about to deal with our other two enemies: the world (2:15-17) and the devil (2:18-25). To get us ready to deal with these two enemies, he is going to review some basic truth about our position in Christ (2:12-14). 3
In 2:12-14, the terms “children… fathers… young men” refer to all the readers in each case since John addressed all his readers as “little children” (cf. 2:1, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). If John was referring to different chronological age groups or differences in spiritual maturity, we would expect the sequence: “little children, young men, and fathers.” But instead, we see the sequence: little children, fathers, and young men. 4
“It seems best… to view the terms of address as referring to all the readers in each case. Then each experience ascribed to them is appropriate to the category named.”5
Anderson writes, “But the words are switched up to look back at ground already covered and look forward to the battle ahead:
Little Children—Forgiveness; ground covered in 1:5−2:2.
Fathers—Intimacy (deep knowledge of God); ground covered in 2:3-11.
Young Men—Victory over the Evil One; ground covered in 2:15-28.” 6
In verses 2:12-14, it is also noteworthy to observe the phrase, “I write to you… because…”“Clearly John does not regard his readers as ‘false professors.’ Viewing this epistle as presenting ‘tests’ by which to determine the genuineness of a person’s salvation misreads the epistle.” 7
John is not writing this epistle to provide tests for eternal life. He is not questioning whether his readers are saved or not. He is writing because he is assured of their salvation and their deepening fellowship with God. His concern is that their enemies may jeopardize their fellowship with God by questioning the genuineness of their salvation experience (2:25-27; 5:9-13) and their subsequent fellowship with the Lord.
John begins with his readers’ experience as “little children.”“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (I John 2:12). Like “little children” (teknia = “little born ones”) 8 John’s readers had experienced the forgiveness of their heavenly Father. That John is referring to his readers’ position in Christ is underscored by using the Greek perfect tense of the word “forgiven” (apheōntai) which refers to a completed action in the past with continuing results to the present. 9 When John’s readers believed in Christ for His gift of eternal life in the past (5:13a), they were forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future (Col. 2:13-14) – and they remain forgiven in the present when John writes to them.
The word for “forgiven” means “to release or cancel” a debt owed. 10 This is judicial or positional forgiveness whereby God cancels our sin debt to Him the moment we believe in Jesus for His complete forgiveness of all our sins so we can become His forever children (cf. Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14; John 1:12; 6:37). We are declared totally righteous before God in His courtroom at the moment of faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-4:5; 8:33). This not only includes our past sin debt, but our present and future sin debt to God as well (Col. 2:13-14). Nothing is more important for a believer in spiritual battle than his secure standing before God. Satan will accuse the believer of wrongdoing, but he cannot do so successfully because Christ has canceled that believer’s sin debt in full and declared him to be totally righteous in God’s courtroom the moment he believed in Jesus (Rom. 8:33-34). This is positional forgiveness.
Another feature in this verse that points to a believer’s position in Christ is the phrase “for His name’s sake.” Why did God grant complete forgiveness to John’s readers? It was “for His name’s sake.” This phrase looks back to the first time John’s readers believed in Jesus’ name. 11 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). God wants people to know that complete forgiveness is connected to believing in “the name of the Son of God,” Jesus Christ. Christ forgives us not because we deserve it but because He wants His name as a forgiving God to become more well known among people all around the world. If Christians lost their positional forgiveness in Christ, it would tarnish Jesus’ name as a forgiving Savior.
First John speaks of two types of forgiveness. One is the forgiveness we receive because of our position in Christ. This is the forgiveness spoken of in I John 2:12 (cf. Ephes. 1:7). The only condition for positional forgiveness is belief in Christ (Acts 10:43). The extent of this forgiveness is past, present, and future sins (Col. 2:13-14). It is permanent as the prefect tense suggests in 2:12 and is therefore unrepeatable. The second type of forgiveness is practical or fellowship forgiveness which was addressed in I John 1:6-2:2. The condition for this forgiveness is confession of sin (I John 1:9). The extent of this forgiveness is the confessed sin. It is temporary and needs to be repeated whenever the believer becomes aware of his unconfessed sin (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). It is important to understand that this practical forgiveness is based on our positional forgiveness.
Anderson illustrates: “When my oldest daughter started to drive, she took Driver’s Ed. She was a good student and did well, but on the day she got her license, she was quite nervous. That night she wanted to go to Young Life, and she borrowed our brand-new family car to do so. I was out that evening myself, so when I got home, I happened to notice that the left side of the car was smashed in, and the left rear-view mirror was missing. I walked into the house and didn’t say a thing. Because I have an eternal relationship with my daughter, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to injure herself, me, or our family. We had insurance on the car, so it was no big deal, but I knew she was going to be feeling very badly.
“I just sat downstairs and turned on the TV, waiting for her to come to me. Well, an hour went by. She didn’t come. She knew I was home because she could hear the TV. But it wasn’t until her older brother called out, ‘Christie, Dad’s home. Don’t you have something to tell him?’ that she came down the stairs. It was hard for her to get up the courage to tell me. But she finally did so and started crying.
“I said, ‘Christie, don’t worry. You are not hurt, you didn’t hurt anyone, and the car can be fixed. But even if we didn’t have insurance on the car and you were hurt, I would forgive you. You’re my daughter. My love for you will last forever. Come here.’
“She came over and I gave her a big hug. Then I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we go out and practice some more.’ So, with me at her side, we went out driving.
“Christie was still somewhat shaken by her first mistake, so she made a second. She drove at thirty miles per hour right through a four-way stop. A policeman saw and stopped us. As he walked up to the car, he had his head cocked with a curious expression on his face. He said, ‘Youjust didn’t see it, did you, honey?’
“You see, most stop signs are run out of defiance (in which case the car is often accelerating) or with a ‘roll stop.’ But Christie just cruised right through at the accepted speed limit for the area. From this the policeman deduced that she had not seen the stop sign at all. He was merciful and only gave her a warning. Now her second mistake wasn’t as bad as the first, and she learned even another lesson. Slowly she developed her confidence as a driver and hasn’t had any more wrecks (to my knowledge) since then. She is now thirty-one years old.
“But in order for Christie to relax and become a better driver, she had to know that she was forgiven for her mistake. And not only the first big mistake, but she had to know that I wasn’t going to revoke my forgiveness for the first mistake when she made the second mistake. Because of our father/daughter relationship, because of her position in our family as my daughter, she already has advanced forgiveness for any mistake she may make in life. That’s what we call positional forgiveness, forgiveness because of our relationship. But in order to feel close to me, she needs forgiveness not only in her position, but also in her condition. That’s why she needed to tell me what she had done, and that’s why I reassured her of my love and forgiveness and gave her a big hug. It is very important to see that our fellowship is based on our relationship.
“My daughter and I have an eternal relationship. As such, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to hurt me. This is relationship forgiveness. But when she does do something wrong, she needs to come to me and confess that wrong in order to be reassured of my love and forgiveness. This is fellowship forgiveness. The latter is based on the former. Any child needs the assurance of relationship forgiveness over and over!
“In the passage before us, John is reassuring his little children of God’s forgiveness because of their eternal relationship with Him. A knowledge and assurance of this forgiveness is absolutely essential for them to feel confident as they go into battle against the world and the devil. A good soldier cannot operate at his best with the fear that a mistake or two will take him off the front lines.” 12
The challenge for many Christians is they don’t believe they have positional forgiveness. Charles Stanley illustrates this with an experience from his seminary days:
“One of my most memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating the concept of grace for his students. At the end of his evangelism course, he would hand out the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well.
“As we read through the exam, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. By the time we were turning to the last page, we were all ready to turn the exam in blank. It was impossible to pass.
“On the last page, however, there was a note that read, ‘You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.’
“Wow! We sat there stunned. ‘Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?’ Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. It took the rest of the afternoon for me to get over it. I had the urge to go back and check with him one more time to make sure he was serious.
“When I talked with him about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years as he had given the same exam. There were always students who did not follow instructions and began to take the exam without reading it all the way through. Some of them would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Their ignorance caused them unnecessary anxiety.
“Then there were the ones who would read the first two pages, become angry, turn in their paper blank, and storm out of the room. They never realized what was available. As a result, they lost out totally.
“One fellow, however, topped them all. He read the entire test, including the note at the end, but he decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, which was amazing considering the difficulty of the test. But he could have easily had an A.
“This story vividly illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Many are like the first group. They spend their lives trying to earn what they discover years later was freely offered to them the whole time. They spend years sweating it out, always wondering if God is listening to their pleas for forgiveness, always wondering if they have finally pushed Him too far. They hope God has forgiven them; they suppose He has. They do all they know to do to get forgiven. But insofar as God is concerned, they do not want to be presumptuous. So, they live their lives with doubts.
“Many people respond like the second group. They look at God’s standard—moral and ethical perfection—and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. They live the way they please, not expecting anything from God when they die. Often, they decide there is no God. Their acknowledged inability to live up to His standard drives them to this conclusion. Instead of living under constant pressure and guilt, they choose to completely abandon the standard. What a shock it will be for them when they stand before God and understand for the first time what was available had they only asked!
“Then there is the guy who took the test anyway. I meet people like him all the time who are unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness. Striking out to do it on their own, they strive to earn enough points with God to give them the right to look to their own goodness as a means of pardon and forgiveness. They constantly work at ‘evening the score’ with God throughtheir good works. ‘Sure, I have my faults,’ they say. ‘But God does not expect anyone to be perfect.’
“When it comes to forgiveness, there is no room for boasting in one’s own ability. As we will see, forgiveness is not a team effort. It is not a matter of God’s doing His part and us doing ours.Unlike my professor’s test, in God’s economy anything less than 100 percent is failing.”13
When Christians go into spiritual battle, our enemy, the devil, will accuse us of wrongdoing to get us to focus on our past. He wants to persuade us that our past sins cannot be forgiven. Satan knows that focusing on our past will make it difficult for us to face the enemy in front of us. This will also weaken us when we face the world with its various temptations.
John reminds us that we have been completely forgiven in Christ the moment we believed in Him (I John 2:12; cf. Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14). In Christ, God sees in us absolute holiness… purity… righteousness… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in us (Rom. 4:5; 8:33; Ephes. 1:4; Heb. 10:10-14). Our relationship with God is eternal and therefore can never be lost (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 17:3). This is the first unchanging weapon that all Christians possess going into battle.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You because we are Your little children whose sins are all completely forgiven forever the moment we believed in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. There is no other name given under heaven by which we could be saved and forgiven forever (Acts 4:10-12). Thank You for this assurance and security that gives us sure footing as we prepare to go into battle against the devil and his world system with its many temptations. Knowing we have an eternal relationship with You strengthens our resolve to stand firm against the schemes of the evil one. No matter what we face, You remain our heavenly Father and we Your children forever. Thank You for this blessed assurance! In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 95.
4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3669 to 3673.
5. Ibid., Kindle Location 3673.
6. Anderson, pg. 96.
7. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 591.
8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3558.
9. Anderson, pg. 96.
10. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 156.
11. Anderson, pg. 96.
12. Ibid., pp. 97-98.
13. Ibid., pp. 98-100 cites Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness: Put the Past Behind You and Give… (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 43-45.
“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” Genesis 32:28
We are learning from Jacob’s interaction with the Angel of the Lord how God wants to change us from the inside out. Thus far we have discovered that we can change when…
– God uses the process of a crisis (Genesis 32:24).
– God uses the process of commitment (Genesis 32:26).
– God uses the process of confession (Genesis 32:27)
Earlier Jacob had sought his brother Esau’s blessing from his earthly father, Isaac. When he entered his father’s presence, Isaac asked him, “Who are you, my son” (Genesis 27:18b)? Jacob deceived his father and said, “I am Esau your firstborn” (Genesis 27:19a).
Now Jacob is wrestling with God and God dislocates his hip (Genesis 32:25). And when God asks him for his name, he comes clean with his heavenly Father and says his name is “Jacob” (Genesis 32:27b). Up to this time, Jacob had been a deceiver and manipulator. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-catcher” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter” – “one who takes the place of another by trickery.” His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, deceiver, schemer.” So when he told God his name, Jacob was being honest with God about his character flaws. He is saying to God, “I am a cheater and a schemer.” It is like Jacob is saying, “Lord, I don’t want to pretend any more. I want to present my true self to You. Here I am. Take me.”
God began changing Jacob as soon as he admitted who he was and started to cooperate with God’s plan. “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’ ” (Genesis 32:30). Jacob came face to face with God. Every one of us must eventually come face to face with God before God can change us. In this encounter with Jacob, God was saying, “I want you to relax. Just cooperate with Me and trust Me, and I will make the changes that you want made, and I will bless you.”
God didn’t say, “Jacob, try real hard and use all your willpower to grow and become the person I made you to be.” That doesn’t work. Willpower does not make permanent changes in our lives because it is attacking the outward circumstance, not the internal motivation that makes the permanent changes. God works on the heart. From this we learn the fourth way God changes us: GOD USES THE PROCESS OF COOPERATION (Genesis 32:28-31).
When Jacob began to cooperate, God started working, and the first thing God did was give Jacob a new identity. “And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” (Genesis 32:28). After we have had a personal encounter with God we can no longer be the same. God changed Jacob from a cheater and schemer to an “Israel,” which means “God fights”1 or “God’s fighter.” After all, Jacob fought with God and men, and prevailed; not by trickery, but by persistent faith. God knew Jacob’s potential; He saw beneath his self-sufficient, crafty exterior. God said, “That’s not the real you, Jacob. You are actually an Israel. You are My fighter.” God saw the fighter in Jacob, and the former cheater began to become the man whom the entire nation of Israel was named after.
The good news is when we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, God gives us a new identity. Beneath all those things we know about ourselves that we don’t like, God sees an Israel. He sees “His fighter.” He sees what we can become by His grace. He sees potential because He gave us God the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a victorious Christian life. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”(Romans 8:11 NKJV). God the Holy Spirit in us gives us the desire and power to do what is right. “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 LB). We are now God’s fighter, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”(Romans 8:37 NKJV). We now have the potential through Jesus Christ Who loved us to live above our circumstances instead of underneath them.
God always knows how to bring out the best in our lives. If we will let Him, He will use whatever is necessary to change our lives for the better. Do we want God’s blessing on our lives? Then we need to take the situation that is making us miserable right now and commit it to God. Say, “God, I am going to commit this problem to You. I am going to hold on to You until You turn this problem around for good.”
Then confess the faults we need to confess, and cooperate with God. Notice an important point about Jacob’s life: “25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him… 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.” (Genesis 32:25, 31). While they had been wrestling, the angel dislocated Jacob’s hip, and as a result, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. That hip muscle is one of the most powerful muscles in your body. When God had to get Jacob’s attention, He touched him at a point of his strength.
When God needs to get our attention, He may touch us at a point of strength to remind us to rely on his power and not our own. When we start thinking, “This is what I am really good at,” God may have to touch that very thing to get our attention. God touched Jacob’s hip, and it became a reminder to Jacob for the rest of his life that he was no longer to rely on his own power but in the power of God, and in so doing he became a much stronger person.
One more insight we gain from this incident in Jacob’s life. Jacob often got himself into trouble because he was a cheater and deceiver, and he often reaped what he sowed. But every time he got himself into a mess he ran away from it – he did this with Esau and Laban, his father-in-law. So God said, “I know how to take care of that temptation- I will put a limp in his walk.” For the rest of his life, Jacob would have to stand and face his problems, not in his own strength, but in God’s strength.
This teaches us that God puts an obvious weakness in people whom He blesses. Often the weakness is some kind of physical problem. For example, the apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The influential 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a lifelong battle with depression. 2 Pastor Rick Warren has a rare neurological disease called spinal myoclonus that causes painful spasms and blurs his vision when he gets a jolt of adrenaline. 3 God used these weaknesses to keep these men dependent on Him and His grace.
What about you? What is the one thing you would most like to change about yourself? Do you want God to change it? He will, but in His own way and time, if you will let Him.
Prayer: Father God, forgive us for pretending to be someone we are not, for hiding behind layers and layers of lies and manipulation. All of us have created protective personalities to protect us from being hurt again. Even though You know this, You still love us and accept us. Because of Your amazing love for us, we come to You as we are. Help us to say good-bye to our protective personalities, and then trust You instead to protect us. Please help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. We are Your fighter or conqueror through Jesus Who loved us. Thank You for giving us God the Holy Spirit to empower us to live for You now above our circumstances instead of underneath them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 148.
2. Retrieved on August 27, 2021 from Michael Reeves’ February 24, 2018 online article entitled, “Did You Know That Charles Spurgeon Struggled with Depression?” at www.crossway.org.
3. Retrieved on August 27, 2021 from Cris Kuo’s June 8, 2021 online Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Rick Warren to retire as lead pastor of Saddleback Church.”
“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab
During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.
We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.
Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.
All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.
But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”
From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” 1 Pure or just one!?! Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him.
Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.”Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down.
Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.” God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.
It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things.
Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”
We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.
When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).
The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).
Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.
When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).
Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.
We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).
Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.
“And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.” Luke 19:3
One of our greatest needs in life is to feel valuable or important. Because of this, we are constantly looking around and in our minds we are evaluating other people and comparing ourselves to them. In our society we tend to base our importance or self-worth on four things.
First, we judge our worth by our appearance, asking ourselves, “How do I look?” If I look good then I think I must be good or valuable. People invest all kinds of time and money to improve their looks because this is how they measure their worth.
Second, we judge our worth by our achievements, asking ourselves, “What have I accomplished? How successful am I?” We invest many of our resources to accomplish big things because we think our importance is based upon our achievements.
Third, we judge our worth on approval, asking ourselves, “How well am I liked?” If a lot of people like me I must be important. We want people to like us so we concentrate on doing everything we can to win their approval.
Finally, we judge our worth on our affluence, asking ourselves, “What do I own? How many possessions do I have?” Deep down we believe that the more possessions we have, the more importance we possess.
The problem with these four standards is that none of them are stable. They can all change. For instance, can your appearance change? Absolutely! Beauty fades doesn’t it? Our successes are surpassed by other people, our records are broken, our possessions wear out and people we think love us, die or abandon us or sometimes even reject us. So if we want to build our self-worth on something that lasts, we must build it on something that cannot change. And there is only one thing that won’t change – what God thinks about you. The greatest changes in our lives take place when we see ourselves as God sees us.
A wonderful example of this principle is a man in the Bible we are going to look at the next few days. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a man who lived in the city of Jericho. One day Jesus came to Jericho and Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life.
We see this in the Bible in Luke 19. “1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4). Zacchaeus didn’t want to talk to Jesus. He just wanted a glimpse of Christ. And if there was ever a man who needed his self-image built up, it was Zacchaeus. Because in the four ways we evaluate our worth, Zacchaeus struck out on the first three. But he was wealthy. He had a lot of money.
In the first place, Zacchaeus didn’t like his appearance. The Bible tells us that he was “of short stature” (Luke 19:3). The Greek word for “short” (mikros) literally means “small.”1 Zacchaeus had the body of an undeveloped child. He wasn’t just short. He was a little person. His body had not developed fully into adulthood. He was probably ridiculed and teased all of his life about how he looked. You know how kids can be ruthless on the playgrounds. They can make fun of you and give you hurtful names. And all Zacchaeus’ life he had probably lived not liking the way he looked.
Not only that, but this guy was hated by everyone in the city of Jericho. It says he was “a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). Tax collectors are never popular but in Roman days it was even worse. The Roman system of collecting taxes was absolutely corrupt. In the first place, you had to bribe an official for the privilege of becoming a tax collector. Second, you could collect and keep as many taxes as you wanted to keep as long as you paid Rome its due. For instance, maybe a family owed Rome $100, and you could say, “You owe Rome $1,000.” They would pay you the $1,000. And then you could give Rome $100 and keep $900 for yourself. So you could collect as much as you want.
This is how Zacchaeus became so wealthy. He got rich by stealing from other people. So he was hated by everybody not only because he was a tax collector, but because he was the “chief” tax collector which means he was in charge of the whole scam. So he probably didn’t like the way he looked. Plus people made fun of him and nobody liked what he did either. So as a result, Zacchaeus probably hated himself. How do I know that? Because you cannot have a guilty conscience and feel good about yourself at the same time. There is no way. He knew that he was ripping people off. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful, dishonest, and a lying scoundrel. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life.
What we have here is a guy who has a lot of money but doesn’t like himself. A man who is lonely and miserable. But one day everything changed. In one moment, he met Jesus and discovered how much he mattered to God. When you learn that, you will never be the same. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates three profound truths. If you will allow God to imprint these truths in your heart and mind, your life will never be the same.
Can you relate to Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your achievements? Do you feel all alone and unwanted like Zacchaeus? Or do you know someone who does? If so, it is time you join me next time as we look in on Jesus’ encounter with this miserable man.
Prayer: Father God, the world teaches us that our importance is based on our appearance, achievements, approval, and affluence. Most of us fall short in at least one or more of these areas. Some of us may have no respect for ourselves because we are not living the way You want us to live. We have taken advantage of others to build ourselves up. And now we find ourselves all alone and unwanted. Lord God, please speak truth to us. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 651.