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This post continues an examination of St John’s Epistles, much of which is missing from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.

As such, these passages are ideal additions to my ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses series, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is taken from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons from 2003 cited below).

1 John 3:9-13

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. 10By 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.

Love One Another

 11For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.


In last week’s passage from 1 John 2, the Apostle explained to his faithful that they would know each other by their righteousness. He also warned them against antichrists — anyone working against Christ, from unbelievers to strident atheists to the ultimate (and, we pray, yet unseen) Antichrist who convincingly impersonates our Lord and Saviour.

Earlier in 1 John 3, he explains that sinning is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and that anyone who is faithful will not sin, because Jesus’s purpose on Earth was to defeat sin (1 John 3:5-6). In true Boanerges (‘sons of thunder’) style, John says that whoever sins is the son of the devil (1 John 3:8), and Jesus came to defeat the devil’s works.

In liberation theology, the ‘devil’ refers to people of European heritage, guilty or not. However, John refers to Satan and his works of perdition.

In verse 9, John rewords verse 8 in order to emphasise that anyone continuing in sin is not a true Christian. He doesn’t mean that Christians don’t sin but that they do not make a habit of it, especially engaging in sins which can bring eternal condemnation (the ‘second death’): fornication, adultery and sodomy, for instance.

In fact, he says that God’s seed — sperma Theos — is planted in all those who believe in His Son. Therefore, they are incapable of being dead in sin. Rather, they will sin, but in lesser ways and less frequently.

In his sermon ‘The Christian’s Incompatibility with Sin, Part 1’, John MacArthur took issue with the errors creeping into many Evangelical churches in the United States. He refers to a certain seminary as being at the root of these errors. (My guess is that it would be Fuller Theological Seminary, about which you can find more on my Christianity and Apologetics page.) He proceeded to run through a list of false teachings about Christians which have come out of books written by the seminary faculty. I’ve heard, read and — worse, believed — a number of these for many years. See if you are familiar with the following. If you (still) believe any of the following, please begin reading the New Testament today:

Repentance is just a synonym for faith. No turning from sin is required for salvation.

Faith might not last. It is a gift of God but it might not last. A true Christian can completely cease believing and therefore can commit the ongoing great sin of willful unbelief and still be a Christian.

Saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel. It is confidence that Christ can remove guilt and give eternal life. It is not a personal commitment to Him.

Christians can lapse into a state of permanent spiritual barrenness.

Christians may fall into a state of lifelong carnality, born again people who continuously live like the unsaved.

Disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt one’s salvation.

A believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing. God has guaranteed that He will not disown those who thus abandon the truth. Those who have once believed are secure forever, even if they turn away.

Repentance is not essential to the gospel. In no sense is repentance related to salvation.

True faith can be subverted, overthrown, collapse and even turn into unbelief.

Spiritual fruit is not guaranteed in the Christian life. Some Christians spend their lives in a barren wasteland of defeat, confusion and every kind of evil.

Nothing guarantees that a true Christian will love God. Salvation does not necessarily even place the sinner in a right relationship with God.

All who claim Christ by faith as Savior, even those involved in serious or prolonged sin, should be assured that they belong to God come what may. It is dangerous and destructive to question the salvation of professing Christians.

The New Testament writers never questioned the reality of their readers’ faith.

Genuine believers might even cease to name the name of Christ or confess Christianity at all.

Anyone who has been reading this blog over the past year or two will know that these bear the hallmarks of Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, free will and Universalism. I’m amazed none of these statements mentioned innate human divinity (Pelagianism, a heresy). MacArthur said (emphases mine), explaining how these theologians arrived at their errors (and, to my Arminian friends, even Arminius didn’t go quite this far, although Amyraut might have done):

The perfectionist says the Christian can reach a place where he doesn’t sin, doesn’t sin at all. And you have to work to get to that place. And perfectionism is usually associated with some form of Arminian theology which also believes that you can lose your salvation. So you get it and you sin a little and you lose it and then you pray and get it back, and you sin a little later and you lose it again. And then you pray and you get it back. And you’re making a little progress in your life. And so you don’t lose it as often and finally you get to the point where you’re not losing it anymore and then you keep progressing and you get to the place where you’ve reached perfection and you don’t sin at all. Then that’s the locked-in Christian. You can’t lose it when you reach that point because you’ve been perfected.

This is often called the doctrine of eradication, as if the sin nature had been eradicated.

Is that what this is saying? That a true Christian, the ultimate Christian, the superior Christian is one who reaches a point of sinlessness? That’s what perfectionism seeks to achieve.

On the other hand, you have the antinomian view, I nomos, the Greek word for law. Antinomian means against the law, that is the people who sort of live without regard for the law of God. And they say Christians can sin, Christians do sin, and frankly, it doesn’t matter because we’re all under grace anyway. Grace covers absolutely everything. In fact, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.

Who’s right? Are the perfectionists right? Can we reach a point of sinless perfection? Are Antinomians correct in saying, “Look, you’re going to sin, you can not sin, so don’t make an issue out of, that’s what grace is for, grace covers it, so that in the view of God it’s not sin,”is that the right answer?

Well neither are correct, as you would assume. Christians do sin and it does matter. How do I know that? Because I am one, and that’s how you know it as well. And because the Bible does say if we say we don’t, we lie. We do sin, but it matters. That’s why chapter 2 says, “I’m writing these things to you…verse 1…that you may not sin.” You do sin, you should not sin.

As some of you know, the further we study the Word, the more appalling our sins become to us. And that is how it should be for a believer.

Therefore, the more God’s grace is working through us, the less we sin. John — again in Boanerges fashion — says this is how we distinguish fellow Christians from non-believers. I was at the midpoint between the two for many years. Oh, it didn’t matter — grace would save me. I’d received all the sacraments of my church, and I went to Holy Communion every Sunday. I was good to go. Now I look back and think how misguided I was through my own fault. Please do not let this happen to you.

In verse 11, John repeats one of his famous verses about love — that we must love one another, echoing Christ’s commandments. A number of lukewarm Christians take this to mean a soft-focussed lens sort of love. But it implies commitment to Christ through one’s actions towards others. MacArthur put it in context with regard to John’s specific audience at the time, which is not too different to some of today’s churches:

Now remember, there were false teachers who were in this particular church who were coming against this particular assembly of believers, and they were claiming to have a relationship with God. They were claiming to have a relationship with the Creator and to have a relationship with Christ. And they were, however, not willing to acknowledge their sin. In fact, according to chapter 1 they may have been guilty of denying they had any sin, nor were they manifestly characterized by love for the brethren. And John is pointing out here that no matter what somebody claims, the truth can be determined in these two behavioral ways. Obedience, righteous behavior and love are evidences of true sons of God.

Now this is not the first time that John addresses this. Go back, for a moment, just so we remind ourselves, in to chapter 2 and verse 7. And you find that he begins in verse 7 talking about not writing a new commandment but an old commandment. In verse 8, it is new, it does have some new characteristics and he says in verse 9, “The one who says he’s in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now, the one who loves his brother, abides in the light and there’s no cause for stumbling in him. The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

He says, “If someone claims to belong to Me, claims to be in the light, but they hate the brother, they abide in the darkness.” Anybody who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, doesn’t know where he’s going, is blinded by the darkness. So here again is the indication that one might claim to be a believer but if there’s no manifest love for others, identified as brothers, others who are believers, that claim is meaningless. This is nothing new, John says. This is nothing new. The people of God have always been marked by love for others.

You find that if you go back into the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, you find it if you go back in to the book of Deuteronomy. Over and over again the people of God are commanded and known by loving their neighbors, loving others. And so John is cycling back to this same subject. This is one of the characteristics of this epistle and I don’t want to belabor you with the technical aspects, but this is sort of a spiral epistle. He deals with a subject at this level and then he deals with it again and it goes deeper. It’s like sort of screwing truth into our minds. It starts out penetrating a little bit and then it goes deeper and deeper as he cycles back through the truth and twists it again into our thinking deeper and deeper with every turn. Love is an indispensable feature in the lives of God. We are taught of God to love, the apostle Paul wrote. The love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts, Romans 5:5 says. We possess the fruit of the Spirit which is love and joy and all the rest.

In verse 12, John advises his followers against being like Cain, whom even today, many will know as the first murderer. He murdered his brother Abel out of jealousy, because Abel obeyed the Lord in bringing the correct sacrifice at His command. It is sad that this tragedy happened so soon, involving Adam and Eve’s sons. The more we study Scripture, the less anecdotal or happenstance this story becomes. Instead, it becomes alarming and terrifying, especially as Cain slit Abel’s throat, as if his brother were a mere animal. We pray we never end up in such a state of hate and envy. Matthew Henry analyses the situation, concluding:

It proceeded so far, and had in it so much of the devil, that he murdered his brother for religion’s sake. He was vexed with the superiority of Abel’s service, and envied him the favour and acceptance he had with God. And for these he martyred his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous, v. 12. Ill-will will teach us to hate and revenge what we should admire and imitate.

Cain was no atheist. However, he brought before the Lord the sacrifice he desired instead of the sacrifice He desired. There is a difference. From the beginning of mankind, God sought obedience in preparation for His Son’s presence among us. He had to prepare them through faith and grace.

Many Christians suggest that adult converts begin reading the Bible starting with Genesis. It is such a dark book (e.g Lot’s daughters sleeping with him because they thought he should have heirs) that it seems better appreciated after a discovery of the Gospels. At the time, one can appreciate that it was best to read and hear in chronological order from the dawn of creation. And it does tell us of the consequences of grave sins as old as mankind as well as of the rewards of obedience to and faith in God. Today, however, we are more than aware of the hatred and debauchery of our fellow men.

Back to John, who lands us with a Boanerges clanger in verse 13: the world will hate you.  In living memory, people around the world have died like animals, persecuted by Cain-like murderers for their obedience to and righteousness in God. The world hates it. Really hates it. Last year I had either the misfortune or the opportunity to converse with people I didn’t know were ardent atheists. It was a difficult year for conversations, and the venom which these very nice, middle-aged, upper-middle class people spouted amazed me.

As Henry writes — true in the 17th century, truer now:

The serpentine nature still continues in the world. The great serpent himself reigns as the God of this world. Wonder not then that the serpentine world hates and hisses at you who belong to that seed of the woman that is to bruise the serpent’s head.

Next week: 1 John 3:14-18

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