John anchored Christian faith in the trinitarian understanding of God—for God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Whom Paul also referred to as the Spirit of Christ). To deny the Son is to deny the Father, a particularly important point for those of Jewish faith and background who had come to believe Jesus.
John had already written much in his gospel about the rejection of Jesus’ claims of Messiah-hood, divinity, and union with God (the Father as God’s only-begotten Son) by the Sanhedrin, temple elite, teachers of the law and scribes. For his Jewish readers, it was necessary to establish this as of first importance.
John had now given two of his nine proofs of salvation and its permanency. Those who are born anew, from above,
- Live by faith in willing cooperation with the Spirit of Christ.
- Hold onto the teaching of the apostles.
Now, John would introduce the third proof.
Evidence of Salvation: Exhibit 3
Living by faith fully consecrated in God’s love
Look at what love the Father has given to us, so that we may be called—and are—children of God. Because of this the world does not know us, for it did not know Him.
Beloved ones, [right] now we are children of God and it has not yet been made visible who we will be. We know that whenever He will be made visible we will be similar to Him, for we will perceive Him just He is.
And each one having this expectation concerning Him consecrates themselves just as that One is consecrated.1 John 3:1-3 (my translation)
There are two notes I would like to make about how I read these three verses.
“and,” not “but”
The καὶ | kai that joins the first and second phrases in the second sentence seems to be linking time frames, and should not be translated as “but,” as some translations will do. It is a conjunction. Therefore, John is saying, “Right now we are [this], and what we will be in the future is not yet known.” Those two concepts are not apposite to each other, but are rather in sequence with each other.
“consecrate,” not “purify”
According to Greek lexicons, the definitions for ἁγνίζει/ἁγνός | agnizei/agnos are [cleanse, purify, sacrifice, hallow, consecrate, burn up, consume]. I saw “sacrifice, burn up, consume” as all variations of the Hebrew Testament’s concept of herem, being under the ban as completely devoted to God, and no longer designated for the earth, but rather only for heaven.
Καθαιρειν | kathairein seems to make more sense as the word for actual cleansing, or purifying. So agnizei/agnos seems to be more of a marker of how believers are set apart from the world, and not recognizable by the world.
Believers are consecrated, designated for the holy, and no longer the earthly.
Those who have put their faith in Jesus have consecrated themselves to Jesus, living in the active and eager hope of Jesus’ return, and marked by a righteous life that is not defined by sin but rather by a desire for purity.
Each one doing sin [also] does lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.
And you have seen that that One was made visible Who would take away sin, and sin is not in Him.
Each one who remains in Him does not sin—each one who sins has not seen Him, nor has known Him.
Children, do not let [anyone] lead you astray: [the] one doing righteousness is righteous, just as that One is righteous; [the] one doing sin is from the devil, [for] the devil [has been] sinning from the beginning. [For this reason] the Son of God was made visible in order to destroy the works of the devil.1 John 3:4-8 (my translation)
A note on John’s statement about Jesus being made visible in order to destroy the works of the devil.
In Greek, John wrote “into this” and the word “situation” would have been intuited. In English I would have to say “Into this situation,” and it would be intuited that I meant “because of this situation.” Most translations say “for this reason” and I did too, after some thought.
Each one who remains in Him does not sin . . . ?
The key concept is about what is going on in the heart. God knows and understands our weaknesses, and I imagine God fully expects us to stumble time and again. Sometimes we end up sinning in the same way, more or less, again and again and again.
You and I might be surprised by our own inability, or by our lack of discipline, or how broad our blind spots are. But I am inclined to think -God- is not in the least surprised. Omniscient, ever-present, God cannot possibly be taken off-guard by what happens in people’s lives.
So, one way we can understand what John was saying is to see this from a consecration point of view. As imperfect as we are, and as often as we make mistakes, poor choices, stumble in our blind spots, even intentionally do and say what we know is bad and wrong (or refuse to do and say what we know is right and good) . . . even in that condition, if we are remaining in Christ, continually returning in repentance, renewing our commitment to consecration, then we are not sinning in the way these others John briefly referred to did sin.
In other words, those who remain in the faith, as flawed as their expression of belief and faith might be, are still not sinning in the way those who left Jesus and their lives of faith were sinning.
Seen in another way, John might also have been indicating that our condition in Christ the righteous one is also righteous. Sin that is followed by repentance is cleansed. The ancient writer of Proverbs was hinting at this when he wrote,
The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,Proverbs 4:17-19 (NRSV)
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know what they stumble over.
Does that not sound like something John already wrote in this letter?
And this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and no darkness at all is in him.
If we said that we have fellowship with him and walk around in the darkness, we are lying [to] ourselves and we do [not live the truth],
And if we walk around in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.1 John 1:5-7 (my translation)
Here’s another Proverb that highlights the way John was talking about sin and righteousness.
For though [the righteous] fall seven times, they will rise again;Proverbs 24:16 (NRSV)
but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.
One last thought on this. Apostle Paul, from time to time, wrote out lists of dastardly doings that he placed apposite to those who claimed faith in Christ. Here’s one example:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Do not be deceived!
—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (!!)
And this is what some of you used to be.
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NRSV)
Do you see it?
It is not really the doing of those things so much as the condition of the inner being. Now, washed, sanctified, justified, there is a new inner being. Stumbling, falling back into those things is a different situation, now. Because you and I are not the same people we were.
Each one who has been begotten of God does not sin, [for] His seed remains in them, and they are not able to sin, [for] they have been begotten of God.1 John 3:9 (my translation)
As believers, we become consecrated unto the Lord, no longer a part of the world, but now being transformed into the heavenly.
[Walking in the Light, though there is darkness all around | Photo by form PxHere]