I. Introduction: The Apostolic Message - 1:1-4
II. The First Series of Tests - 1:5-2:27
III. The Second Series of Tests - 2:28-4:6
A. The Moral Test (3) - 2:28-3:10a
John's major concern in this paragraph is with the incongruity or incompatibility of sin in the Christian. He is not arguing for the impossibility of sin in the Christian, only for its inconsonance. If in the second application of the moral test (2:3-6) he stressed the necessity of the Christian practicing righteousness or doing the commandments, in its third application (2:28-3:10a) he stresses the necessity of the Christian not practicing unrighteousness or not doing sin. They are essentially identical in nature but are viewed from differing perspectives, the former positive and the latter negative.
The concept around which John builds the moral test is the manifestation or coming of Christ. In 2:28-3:3 it is the future or second coming of Christ which is an incentive to holiness, whereas in 3:4-10 it is the past or first coming. As Stott says, "unrighteous conduct is unthinkable in the Christian who has grasped the purpose of the two appearings of Christ. The fact of His first appearing and the hope of His second are both strong incentives to holiness" (116).
1. the influence of Christ's second coming - 2:28-3:3
a. shame or confidence at the second coming - 2:28-29
The command to "abide" in him (present imperative) reminds one of John 15:4. Insofar as abiding may be viewed as either objective (= to have eternal life) or subjective (= to believe in Christ), the latter seems most appropriate here. The command, then, is to continue to exercise faith in Christ; keep on trusting; it is an exhortation to faithfulness.
1) the prospect of Christ's return is an incentive to abiding - 2:28
The word translated "confidence" is common in John: 13 of its 31 NT usages being found in his writings. Literally, it means freedom or frankness of speech, but in the NT has acquired the sense of confidence and assurance with which the Christian approaches Christ at his return (cf. 3:21 and 5:14 for "confidence" in prayer and 4:17 for "confidence" at the day of judgment). Such confidence then is the experience only of those who abide now. The alternative is to shrink from him in shame (cf. 2 Thess. 1:6-10; Rev. 6:15-17).
2) the practice of righteousness is a sign of regeneration - 2:29
Note: This is the first instance in 1 John of the verb 'to beget or 'to give birth to (gennao). John will use it nine more times before he is finished (see 3:9 (2); 4:7; 5:1 (3), 4,18 (2)). In every case, other than 2:29, God is explicitly mentioned as the author or agent of the 'begetting. It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that 'born of him in 2:29 means 'born of God.
John here says that if you know for a fact that only God is righteous, you know by logical deduction that those who practice righteousness must have been begotten of him. Note the syllogism:
only God is righteous
some men practice righteousness
therefore, some men have been begotten of God.
The point is this: there must have been a communication of nature from God to men. This is the new birth. Doing righteousness as God is righteous is the perceptible evidence of being born from above. John is telling us that if we are in God's family by the new birth we will exhibit a family resemblance! The important thing to note is that righteousness is not the condition or cause of regeneration, but its consequence (see also 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18). Marshall comments:
"What John is trying to stress is that doing what is right is the consequence of spiritual birth; hence if a person does what is right, this is a sign of spiritual birth. Naturally, this does not mean that any morally upright person is a child of God, even though he makes no religious profession; when John says that 'Everyone who loves has been born of God' (4:8), he does not mean that atheists who love are really Christians. John is quite clear that being a Christian is dependent on believing in Jesus Christ and loving one another (3:23), and his other remarks must be understood in this context. Here he has in mind the problem of testing the truth of claims to be true Christians within the church, and he asserts that true righteousness (the kind shown by Jesus) is possible only on the basis of spiritual birth. So the readers themselves can take comfort that, if they do what is righteous, this is a sign that they are born of God, and hence that they can have confidence for the day of judgment" (169).
b. reflection on our present experience as sons of God and on our future transformation into Christ-likeness is a stimulus to sanctification - 3:1-3
1) John reflects on the wonder of having been begotten of God and the experience of sonship - 3:1
This verse is something of a meditation on the final phrase of 2:29 ("begotten of him"). John is overwhelmed at the idea that the infinitely righteous God would see fit to beget sons who reflect, as a consequence, His character as righteous. The word translated "how great" originally meant "of what country?" and suggested surprise and astonishment. John is flabbergasted at such love:
"Behold the amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestowed,
On us the sinful sons of men,
To call us sons of God!" (Isaac Watts)
This love is not merely "shown" to us, but is "given" to us. The idea is that the love of God has actually been imparted to or infused in us. It is an aspect of the divine nature which takes up residence in the believer through regeneration. Christians exhibit the love of God not simply because they are imitating an external model, but because such love is now an actual component of their inner nature.
This giving of God's love has thus constituted us His children (tekna = the word that stresses the community of nature; i.e., the nature of God having become ours through the begetting of 2:29. Furtherfore, not only does God call us His children . . . such we are! It is not a mere title: the facts correspond to the label.
Because of our experience of regeneration we should not expect the world's recognition. The world did not know Christ. We are partakers of his nature through the new birth. Hence, the world will not know us. If the world refused to acknowledge the glory and righteousness of our Lord, we in whom he dwells should expect no more. Marshall again comments:
"This very fact is a further proof that the readers are children of God: the way in which the world does not recognize them as being on its side is proof that they belong to God. Thus this comment, which at first sight may seem irrelevant, has a part to play in strengthening the readers' assurance. Christians who are persecuted sometimes feel cut off from God because they are in a difficult and unpleasant situation, and they may be tempted to give up their faith; on the contrary, the very fact that they are being persecuted should strengthen their faith since it is an indication that the evil world recognizes that they have passed from death to life" (171).
An additional word on Adoption
John's tone and terms virtually bristle with urgency and excitement. 'Come quickly and see! Look! Listen! You can't imagine what I have to tell you! I like that. Here's an elderly man nearing the end of life who still gets excited about the love of God. Why? Because John knew that God's love has bestowed on us the greatest of all blessings: sonship. Here is the measure of God's love. Here is the test of how deeply He treasures us.
The biblical doctrine of adoption makes sense only when we remember that we are not naturally God's children. It is true that God is the Father of all men and women insofar as He is the Creator. But many such 'children of God will spend an eternity in hell. One does not become a spiritual child of God by being born, but by being born-again. Let me explain.
My heart breaks each time I see or read about the orphans in such lands as Romania and Afghanistan. Communist oppression has taken its toll on countless little children who have been cruelly abandoned. They are alone, discarded, often diseased and deformed, helpless and without hope. It isn't a pretty picture. It's just as ugly when looked at spiritually. For we are all born spiritual orphans. Apart from Jesus Christ we too are abandoned, stricken with a fatal disease called sin. We have no family, no father, no future. Here is where God's incalculable love makes its appearance. Listen again to the words of the apostle:
'He [Jesus] was in the world, and though the world was make through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God --- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God (John 1:10-13).
John is describing the glorious truth of our adoption as sons and daughters into the family of God. Paul speaks of this often as well:
'For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children (Romans 8:15-16).
'You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26).
This latter declaration of Paul's makes it inescapably clear: there is no saving relationship to God as Father without a living faith in Jesus Christ. Being a child of God, therefore, is not a universal status upon which everyone enters by natural birth. It is rather a supernatural gift one receives by believing in Jesus. Adoption is wholly and utterly an act of God's spontaneous and uncoerced love.
J. I. Packer reminds us that in the ancient word 'adoption was a practice ordinarily confined to the childless well-to-do. Its subjects . . . were not normally infants, as today, but young adults who had shown themselves fit and able to carry on a family name in a worthy way. In this case, however, God adopts us out of free love, not because our character and record show us worthy to bear His name, but despite the fact that they show the very opposite. We are not fit for a place in God's family; the idea of His loving and exalting us sinners as He loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild -- yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means.
Even today when a childless couple visits the orphanage with a view to adopting, they invariably base their choice on physical beauty and intellectual skills. Rarely does one hear of a child with Downs syndrome being adopted. Rarely does the orphan with spina bifida go home with new parents. Prospective parents want to know about a child's natural father and mother. Was this child the product of rape? What is his ethnic origin? Did she come from 'good stock? What is his IQ?
God's choice of us is utterly and eternally different. He didn't make us His children because we were prettier than others. Divine adoption isn't concerned with physical health or financial wealth or potential or ones past history. God loves the unlovely and unappealing. God loves because God loves. That is why you are His child. Because He loves you.
John goes to great lengths to insist that entrance into God's family is on a different plane from entrance into one's earthly family. One does not become a child of God by the same process one becomes a child of a physical parent. In other words, spiritual life is not genetically transmitted!
My earthly father was a Christian. So, too, is my mother. But that isn't why I am a Christian. Your father and mother may not be Christians. But that has no ultimate impact on whether or not you are. The DNA of one's parents has nothing to do with becoming a child of God. Your heritage, ancestry, family tree, no matter how glorious and impressive, have nothing to do with your entrance into heaven. The fact that you have descended from noble blood or are the product of peasants is irrelevant. I'm proud of the name 'Storms. But when I stand before God He says, 'Who?
I rejoice in the fact that I've been justified and forgiven and granted eternal life. But to know and experience God as my Father, Abba, Daddy, is greater still. When you are justified by faith in Christ, you stand before God as Judge and hear him declare: 'Not guilty! Righteous through faith in Jesus! Praise God! But in adoption God the Judge steps down from behind His legal bench, removes His stately robes, stoops down and takes you into His arms of love and says softly: 'My son, my daughter, my child!
I relish the experience of every divine blessing. I thank God daily that I am a member of the body of Christ and a citizen of the kingdom. But nothing can quite compare with knowing that when I was homeless, helpless, and hopeless, God rescued me from the gutter of sin and made me His child. Nothing can compete with the thrill of being adopted as a full and coequal heir with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:17).
I've seen this kind of love illustrated in one family I know. Having been told by several physicians that they would never conceive a child, Roger and Paula adopted four kids. Sure enough, Paula later conceived and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. But she is no more or less loved than those other four. Together they all bear the family name and stand to inherit the family estate.
So, too, in God's family. Says Packer, 'God receives us as sons, and loves us with the same steadfast affection with which He eternally loves His beloved only-begotten. There are no distinctions of affection in the divine family. We are all loved just as fully as Jesus is loved . . . . This, and nothing less than this, is what adoption means. No wonder that John cries, 'Behold, what manner of love . . .!' When once you understand adoption, your heart will cry the same.
It isn't make-believe. It is more real than you can ever imagine. To every soul that doubts, to every heart that wonders if it's only a name, a label, with no substance, John reassuringly declares 'and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1; emphasis mine). It's fact. It's truth. It's reality.
Oh, yes, there's one more thing. Neither John nor Paul nor any other biblical author says that we are God's 'foster children. We are His adopted children. The former relationship is at best a temporary one. The latter is eternal.
2) John reflects on our future transformation into Christ-likeness - 3:2-3
We are in error if we believe that what is visible now is the sum of God's blessings for us. This is only temporary, for we shall be changed (Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 3:3-4). God has not yet made a public display of the glory that He has reserved for His children, of the inheritance incorruptible, unstained, unfading, reserved for us in heaven (1 Pt. 1:4).
See 2 Cor. 3:18. Just as the vision of Christ in the future will sanctify us wholly, the vision of Christ in the present (in Scripture) sanctifies us progressively. It is our experience of Christ that sanctifies. If progressive assimilation to the likeness of Christ results from our present beholding of him through a glass darkly, to behold him face to face, i.e., "to see him as he is," will result in instantaneous perfection or glorification.
What is the precise causal relationship between the vision of Christ and final glorification? Two views are possible:
* On the one hand, some insist that we shall see Christ because we are like him; likeness, then, is the condition of seeing him (cf. Mt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). Thus, this view says that holiness is a prerequisite to the vision of Christ and thus must precede it (the holiness, of course, is God given, not earned by man).
* Others says that he shall appear, we will see him, and as a result of seeing him we shall be made like him. I.e., in his presence sin will be eradicated from us and we will reflect his glory and through the majesty of that moment we will be made like him.
The possession of such hope (this is the only place in the Johannine epistles where the 'hope is used) is the strongest imaginable incentive to purity of life. It is no passing fancy; it is a hope securely fixed upon him. Simply stated: the Christian hope is incompatible with moral indifference. "A mind singularly focused on meeting Jesus will discover a renewed power to pursue righteousness" (Burge, 147).
The words purify and pure stress the personal, internal aspect of purification. The emphasis is on one's sensitivity to sin, the tendency to shrink away from all contamination. It is an intense, inner purification from sin because of a deep sensibility to it.
2. the influence of Christ's first coming - 3:4-10a
next lesson . . .