From 1 John 1-5
Practice, practice, practice. John highlights the work of Christ in taking away sin and encourages his audience to hope for Jesus’ second coming. With this in mind he calls all God’s children to make a practice of righteousness. This is the proper response to knowing God and seeking to abide in him.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
John’s first epistle is a general letter to congregations spread across Asia Minor. He reaffirms the core of Christianity, saying Christians are characterised by sound doctrine, obedience, and love. These are the basics of faith.
28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 Jn 2.28-29)
‘Abide in him’. This expression is also used in John’s Gospel within the context of an analogy depicting a vine, its branches and fruit (Jn 15.1-17). In relation to abiding in Jesus, John encourages his listeners to persevere in Jesus until His second appearing. Those who continue to abide in Jesus will be confident and unashamed when He returns.
‘Practices’. The Gk. ποιέω is transliterated poieō. The term denotes a customary, habitual and ongoing activity. Constant development. Compare with Jn 8.34 where John is speaking about a practice of sin, not a one off act.
Whoever practices righteousness has been born of God.
The regular practice of righteousness does not mean sinless perfection. As I will discuss below there are different degrees of practice.
‘Born of him’. The Gk. γεγέννηται is transliterated gegennētai. To be ‘born of God’ or ‘born again’ is to enter into a completely new mode of existence, it does not refer to adoption. The new spiritual life John describes is marked by righteous (lawful and good) living. John is ‘sure’ all God’s children will be like this.
3 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 Jn 3.1-3)
‘What kind of love’. John highlights the powerful love of God. He brings his people into his family and recognises them as his children. As his children, they now call him Father.
The ‘world’ John speaks about is the world under the devils dominion and control. Those in this world no longer have intimate fellowship with God’s children, because they do not know God.
‘Purifies himself’. John again anticipates the second appearing of Jesus. John says all God’s children shall be like God. That is they have yet to be transformed into something amazing. Clearly this has not happened yet, but this will happen when Jesus returns and they see him. This is the hope he speaks of that governs their perspective on life.
Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 Jn 3.4-9)
‘Take away sins’. John has already implied that at some point in time everyone has sinned. He says a person deceives themself if they deny this (1 Jn 1.8). Prior to being saved, everyone kept on sinning. i.e. They made a regular practice of sinning.
But then Jesus ‘took away their sins’. This implies a radical change in behaviour as well as forgiveness (cf. Heb 10.4,11,14). God’s children no longer keep on sinning. Rather they practice righteousness because Jesus’ appearing has taken away their sins.
Again this does not imply sinless perfection, God’s children do still sin (1 Jn 2.1). But their behaviour in general is governed by the practice of righteousness, not sin.
The ones who kept on sinning in the past are the ones who Jesus has now taken away their sins and now practice righteousness.
‘As he is righteous’. Being righteous is more about the presence of righteousness in a persons life, rather than the absence of sin, Although that is implied as well.
John is not saying all God’s children are sinless and perfect like God is. Rather they are deemed righteous because they make a customary, habitual and ongoing practice of righteousness. In terms of their practice they are likened to God (cf. 1 Pet 1.16). This is what God does, only without any sin whatsoever.
John’s repeated statements about practice have two functions.
- They can be used to help people identify God’s children (righteousness) and the children of the devil (sin).
- They also function as an implicit exhortation for his audience to make a regular practice of righteousness.
10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 Jn 3.10)
‘It is evident’. John says this is one way people can be identified with respect to their spiritual family. A practice of righteousness identifies the children of God. Those who keep on sinning are the children of the devil.
John also includes love for one another as a distinguishing characteristic for God’s children. Another boundary marker for those who abide in Jesus (Jn 13.35).
John’s statements regarding how God’s children are identified are not unique (e.g. Mt 7.15-20; Jas 2.21-24). Good works, mercy and righteousness are intrinsic to the process of salvation and no one can be saved without them.
John emphasises practice over time, so believers should keep that in mind if they encounter someone they know to be a believer temporarily struggling with some sin.
If someone were to look at themselves and deem themselves righteous because of all they had done I suspect Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Tax collector might be in order (Lk 18.9-14). Humility is necessary.
This does not mean constant self degradation. Paul’s assessment of himself before (Phil 3.6) and after (1 Cor 4.3-5; Acts 23.1; cf. Acts 24.16) his conversion demonstrates a sober assessment his repentance of sin and practice of obedience. He had confidence.
John highlights the work of Christ in taking away sin and he encourages his audience to hope for Jesus’ second coming.
With this in mind his statements call all God’s children to make a practice of righteousness.
This is the proper response to knowing God and seeking to abide in him.
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2016. All Rights Reserved.