1 John 2:29-3:12 underscores the importance of good, Bible study and properly understanding the Word.
As an application of 1 John 1, we talked about how do you know who to believe and which voice carries authority. Then as an application of 1 John 2, we talked about what is essential and what is non-essential and what are we free to disagree about. With 1 John 2:29-3:12, we tackle the problem of different interpretations. Scholar A says the passage means X; scholar B says the passage means Y. They both sound persuasive and both offer some compelling evidence. How do you decide between them?
“God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Therefore, genuine believers will:
- know that they are sinful (1 John 1:5-10)
- ‘hunger and thirst’ for holiness (1 John 2:1-11)
- not hunger for things of this world (1 John 2:12-17)
- confess that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:18-29)
- Credible: A valid interpretation understands the words, syntax & grammar according to their normal usage at the time the author wrote.
- Comprehensive: A valid interpretation explains each and every detail, even if the contribution is insignificant or stylistic.
- Coherent: A valid interpretation fits the flow of thought in the passage and in the larger context of the chapter and book.
- Consistent: A valid interpretation is consistent with information which is not in this passage such as the author’s other letters and the rest of Scripture.
- Conforms: A valid interpretation conforms to the author’s purpose and the author’s original intent in writing the passage.
Does John teach believers no longer sin?
Given the 5 C’s, is an interpretation of 1 John 3 valid which claims John believes genuine believers no longer sin?
- Credible: Yes. It has legitimately understood the words, grammar and syntax. This interpretation is possible.
- Comprehensive: No. The language of this passage indicates that John is talking about something other than simply committing a sin. In biblical Greek, an author uses the present tense to talk about a repeated ongoing action. To indicate this, the translators have added “practice” (vs 4,8a,9a).
- Coherent: No. Consider John’s other statements in this letter about Christians sinning, particularly 1 John 1:8-10 and 1 John 2:1-2.
- Consistent: No. The rest of the New Testament clearly teaches that Christians sin. Consider Romans 7:14-24; Ephesians 2 and the example of Old Testament believers who were sinful after belief (David, Solomon, Moses, Abraham, etc.).
- Conforms: No. The setting of this letter suggests that John is not insisting on sinless perfection, but exposing and refuting false teachers.
What does John mean?
- John is providing another test by which to discern true believers from false believers (note 1 John 2:10).
- e can tell false teachers not only by the doctrine they teach (1 John 2:22, 26; 1 John 4:1-6), we can also tell by the morality they teach and practice.
- Compare with Matthew 7:15-23.
- To be “righteous” is to be justified or to be in good standing with God and no longer under God’s wrath because you are forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ and your heart has been changed through the work of the Spirit.
- The righteous person is not someone who is morally perfectly and pure 24/7, but someone who loves righteousness and seeks righteousness rather than sin.
- Everyone in the world is sinful; but there are 2 types of sinful people: 1) sinful people long for holiness and want to be freed from their sinfulness; and 2) sinful people who don’t care about righteousness.
- Believers are “righteous sinners”, that is, sinners who are right with God and in the process of being morally changed.
- 1 John 2:28 is his exhortation. He sums up the letter so far by saying: cling to the gospel which you have been taught, so that when Jesus returns you won’t be afraid or ashamed.
- In 1 John 2:29 If you know that God is holy, then you know that everyone who pursues holiness is a believer, because the desire to be holy is part of the gift of saving faith.
- What awaits us as children of God is a wonderful, glorious profoundly different kind of existence. We haven’t seen yet how glorious and different it will be, but one thing we do know, we will be like Him (Jesus) in that we will be Holy and righteous and freed from sin.
- In 1 John 3:3 he’s talking about purity not at the level of every thought, word or action, but at the level of my heart and hope.
- Everyone who pursues a lifestyle of sin is guilty, because sin is immoral.
- No one who remains committed to the teaching of Jesus pursues sin as a lifestyle. Neither does anyone who saw Jesus or knew Him (when He was here) pursue a sinful lifestyle.
- “righteousness” is to be forgiven and right with God (justified)
- “of the devil” – having the same character and lifestyle as the devil
- “practice sin” – committed to rebellion to God as a lifestyle
- “seed” / “born of God” – God’s seed are His children. Metaphorically speaking believers are “genetically” destined to be like God (born of God) as children are genetically destined to be like their parents.
- Once we are genuinely born of God we cannot continue to pursue a lifestyle of sin.
- 1 John 3:10 is the summary statement of the section: Children of God will love holiness and goodness. Children of the devil will not love holiness nor the people who do love holiness.
- John gives Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) as an example. Cain killed Abel because Abel was right with God. Cain was not righteous and he hated his brother for being in God’s favor.
John’s marks of genuine faith so far:
- Conviction of sin (1 John 1:5-10)
- Love for God & others who love God; not loving the world (1 John 2:1-17)
- Confession that Jesus is the Messiah, our Lord and Savior (1 John 2:18-27)
- Pursuing holiness (1 John 2:28-3:12)
- Note: none of these criteria are how we feel at any given moment; rather they reflect what be believe to be true and what we have set our hope on.