1 John 3:1-15 “Live as the Children of God”
1 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. 2 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. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 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. 9 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.
10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.
13 Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Introduction: Whenever the Lord through his apostles calls upon us to live a holy life, it is based upon the foundation that it is not our holy life that saves us, but God who saves by his grace. That’s why, in this passage that speaks of living a holy life, he begins verse one by reminding us of what God has done for us.
In verse 1, he says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us.” Now, one of the problems with Bible translations is that we use words that we never use in real life. If you say “Behold!” to one of your co-workers, they will probably give you a strange look. But, in a way, it’s the only word that fits. I don’t know what word is used in Vietnamese, but in English, it doesn’t just mean “Look”, it means to look at something with amazement and wonder.
And that’s what we should do, because the love of the Father to us is so great, that’s it’s not enough to just look at it, or think of it, but we should look at it with amazement, that God should freely give to us his love. Ladies, imagine that you are poor, and old, and disfigured, and a handsome young man comes to you and asks you to be his wife. Truthfully, that is what our Saviour Jesus has done for us. Except that our ugliness is wilful, and from our hearts, and we are the enemies of God who spit in his face, and he sent his Son Jesus to die for us.
And then there is another one of those words we never use, because he says that his love has been bestowed on us. In saying it this way, he is saying that God’s love is not something that we deserve or merit, but simply something that God has given to us. A bestowment is something that someone freely gives to someone else, and that is what God has done for us in loving us.
And then he tells us what the result of his love is: “that we should be called children of God!” I need to mention here that Greek like Spanish uses the masculine to refer to both sexes, so when he says, “children of God” it is sometimes translated as “sons of God”, but this translation properly refers it to both men and women. But apart from that, imagine what it means—we who were before the enemies of God have now been reconciled to him through the blood of his Son. But we haven’t just been reconciled; he has called us his sons and daughters. Imagine that someone had murdered your son. Could you forgive them? It would be very hard for me. And yet, God not only forgives those who murdered his son, he calls them his children [cf. Acts 2:23, 41].
Sometimes this may not work out for us, for he goes on to say, “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” That is, if people who are self-centred, and do not care about others, and don’t care about God or his word don’t like, you shouldn’t be surprised. He says the world does not know us, because it did not know him. Sometimes these people will be among our family and friends, and they may even say that they will not continue to be our family or friends if we follow Jesus, but that’s because it is not us, but Him, that they are rejecting.
There are some people who long for the day when we will go to be with Jesus, and I long for that day as well. But, it is important to notice what he says to us in verse 2, “Beloved, now we are children of God.” Yes, we are waiting for the day when we will be with Jesus, but we are already the children of God. He says, “Now we are” the children of God. Although we are waiting for the day when Jesus comes, our eternal life has already begun.
Yes, it is true that there is much yet to come, so he says, “and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be.” People ask me all the time what paradise will be like, and I am convinced that it will be far better than we can think or imagine, but, truthfully, he had not revealed these things to us. But, one thing we know, as he says, “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” That is, the most important thing about paradise is that we shall see our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and we shall be with him. As a result, we will be like him. Even then, I do not know exactly in what ways we will be like him, for I know that we will not be God, but I believe that we, like him, will be without sin.
And so he says in verse 3, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” That is, since our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that we shall be like him, and since we are already the children of God, he then concludes that we should be pure. That is, having declared that our salvation comes from God, we should now live a life which is worthy of him.
But how do we live a life of purity? There are two answers. We need to love God and love others, and we need to keep God’s commandments. Some people try to emphasize one over against the other, but the apostle makes it clear that two go together. He says in verse 4, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” That is, we know for a certainty what offends God, because he has written it down in his Word, and it is called his Law. But the good news for us is that we “know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” That is, our obedience to the law is not a self righteousness generated from within ourselves. Our righteousness is possible because our Lord Jesus Christ has come and not only died for us to take away our sins, but he has also empowered us to defeat sin in our own lives.
So he says in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” That is, yes, we keep the law of God, but we keep because we are in Christ Jesus. It’s not a matter of some rules derived from philosophy or religion or experience, but the law of God is an extension of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
And so he warns us in verse 7, “Little children, let no one deceive you.” Once again, as he has before, he calls us “little children.” I know nothing of Vietnamese culture, but, in Mexican culture we often call people who are not our children “mijito” which means my little child. Some people may think that this is demeaning, but it shows the sincere love the apostle has for us, just as God has for us. And, like children, sometimes were are deceived by people who are trying to trick us, sometimes by people who know more tricks than we do.
The deception that some people try to engage in is to say that you can follow the Lord, but not obey his Law. To warn us against such a foolish deception, he says to us “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” That is, we practice righteousness, not simply because it is required of us, but because in doing so, we are imitating Christ Jesus. He lived a life of obedience to the Law of God when he was here on earth, and so when we obey the Law, we are following Him.
Or, to put it another way, those who do not obey the Law of God are the enemies of Christ, or, as the apostle puts it in verse 8, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” Now, I know that when we sin, we do not say to ourselves, “I am going to serve the devil,” but whether we like it or not, that is exactly what is happening. Many people like to isolate their sin, as if it was not connected to their relationship to God or to other people, but the fact is that every sin affects all of our relationships, both with God and with others. So, when we, out of love for Christ Jesus, obey his Law, we show our love towards him, and when we sin, we are serving his enemy.
But, thanks be to God, he has already won the victory. The apostle says at the end of verse 8, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Yes, Christ Jesus came to save us from our sins, but in doing so, he defeats and destroys both the devil and his works, which is to say, sin. For us to sin is for us to deny work of Jesus Christ in coming to set us free from his dominion.
And so he says, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him.” That is, if God has bestowed upon us his love and made us his children, we no longer are subject to the power of the devil. We are now the children of God, and as such, we belong to him, his seed remains in us. He even goes so far as to say, “he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” It is no longer our desire and purpose to sin. Yes, as he said in the first two chapters of this letter, we do continue to sin, but it is no longer our way of life. Our character has been changed, so that we who were once the enemies of God, and aliens and strangers, have now become not just reconciled to him, but we have become his children.
And so, it’s clear who belongs to him, and who does not, as he says in verse 10, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God.” That is, our actions make clear whether we love God, or serve his enemy the devil. There are those who talk about our Lord Jesus, and say they believe in him, and they may even go to church, or pray, or read the Bible, but they live a life of rebellion against him. Such people, notwithstanding their claims, are not children of God, for their actions deny their claims.
But then he makes a connection with the second part of the Law, for he says, “nor is he who does not love his brother.” That is, to love God and obey his Law necessarily means that we will love others. When he says “love his brother” I am convinced that he does not means his brother in Christ, although that too should be done, but instead, I think he refers to all others, just as Peter on the day of Pentecost refers to all those present as his brothers in the human race.
And then he connects that with the truth that has been proclaimed all along, as he says in verse 11, “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” That is, this message is not a new teaching that came with the coming of Jesus to earth, but has been true ever since the creation of the world. He uses the example of the first two men that were born, Cain and Abel. In verse 12 he says, “not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Ever since the beginning, there have been two sides—those who love God and love others, and those who do not. And Cain showed his hatred for God by murdering his only brother, not because Abel had done something wrong, or offended him, or attacked him, but simply because Abel’s actions were righteous. And so it should be with us—the only reason people should hate us is because we love God and love others.
And yet, as strange as it may seem, such is the case at times. He tells us in verse 13, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.” Not often, but sometimes, when I have handed people a portion of the Word of God, they have ripped it up without reading it. Now, I would have understood it if they had read the words of God and then reacted against them by tearing them up, but, to tear them up before they had even read them? It makes no sense. But such is the world, that it rejects the love of God in Christ, and chooses instead a self-destructive path. And if, in doing so, they hate us as well, we should not be surprised.
And a further benefit of this love is that it benefits us as well. No, we don’t love God and others to get something, but, we do get something. In verse 14 he says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” That is, when we love others, it gives us some assurance that we belong to Christ, and so, as he says, “We know that we have passed from death to life.” If you are filled with hatred for others, then as he says, “He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” But, for those of us who love God, and so love others, our love serves us as well to show us that we are no longer like those of the world. We belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, we love him, we love others, and so we know we have eternal life.
Which brings us back to where we started. When we read the writings of the apostle Paul, they are very logical. Yes, there are times when he breaks out in joy for the love of God, but oftentimes his letters follow a very logical course, in demonstrating our need for Christ and the wonderful work of grace that he has done in dying and rising again to save us from our sins. The apostle John certainly believes the same things as Paul, but his reaction is to be filled with great joy that we should be called the children of God. And so he writes this letter to remind us to marvel at that fact—that we are now the children of God, because the Father has given his love to us. And then, in light of that fact, he reminds us as well to live as those who are no longer children of the devil, but as children of the light, children of God. Amen.