1 John 2:28-3:10

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Our passage today is 1 John 2:28-3:10

2:28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 2:28-3:10

There are a lot of questions that arise out of this passage (at least for me).  I have questions like, “is John thinking about a particular type of sin or sins?”  “Who specifically is John talking to?”  “How does this passage relate to the previous and following passages?”  But I don’t want to get caught up in too many details.  So I want to try to focus on what I think is the main thrust of these verses. 

So let me start by saying that what we’re seeing here, broadly speaking, appears to be John making use of his typical dualism or dichotomy.  He sets before us an “either, or” proposition to make his point clear.  We’ve already seen this a lot throughout the letter, and in these verses the distinction Is between those who sin or “keep on sinning” (v. 5) and those who do not, that is, those who “do what is right.” 

We pick this up especially from verse, where we read: 

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:4-6

Now this is especially difficult (for us) to hear because, as we know, nobody is sinless; nobody is perfect.  If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need the sacrifice of Jesus.  But as we know, everybody sins and everybody is sinful.  G.K. Chesterton famously said that the sinfulness of human beings is the only Christian doctrine that can be empirically verified – we just need to look around us.  Indeed, we just need to look within us. 

If we remember, John actually agrees.  He says in 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  However, John doesn’t leave it at that – he goes on to say that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  [also, 2:3-4]

But if we continue reading in our passage today, John’s concern isn’t with those who sin, per se.  John’s concern is with those who “keep on sinning.”  But the same problem arises, doesn’t it?  Everybody keeps on sinning.  On this side of eternity, everyone continues to be caught in the trap of sin.  If we take as the measure of our own faithfulness the clause, “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him,” can any of us claim to be faithful? 

So it’s at this point that it’s important to remember that John’s letter is (what we call) occasional.  It’s occasioned by something – a circumstance of situation.  As we’ve discussed, that situation in the community to whom John is writing is the turbulence caused by a group of false teachers or opponents.  And this seems to be the specific issue that John is addressing as he writes:

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:7-10

We might recognize in verse 7 the same type of language we saw in last week’s passage.  That is, in 2:26, John says, “26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.”  That is, John is addressing a particular group of people with a particular teaching that sin or sinning doesn’t matter.  Now I don’t want to get into the how or why of this (and it is, to a certain extent, an educated guess at best), but scholars generally agree that John is referring to a type of proto-Gnosticism or Docetism (which we mentioned last week).  Essentially, the belief was that there is a distinction between the physical (which was impure) and the spiritual (which was pure).  These folks in short believed that the ultimate goal was to separate the spiritual from the physical.  Therefore, acts (including sinful acts) committed by the body didn’t matter.

Again, we could explore this further – and by ‘this,’ I mean Gnosticism/Docetism – but I’ll leave it at that.  What John is saying is that this is a false teaching.  And more to the point of these verses, the false teaching is leading to a false ethic – a false way of living.  To go on sinning is contrary to the purposes and character of God. 

Now again, John acknowledges that everybody sins – everybody is subject to our sinful nature.  And John wants us to avoid succumbing to our sinful nature – but he knows that everybody sins.  But John’s real concern isn’t that people are sinning – his concern is that people are trivializing the sinning.  John’s efforts then, in these verses, arise out of a number of the community being led astray into a life that is not reflective of the reality of God’s creation and God’s salvation.  So what do I mean by this? 

Firstly, of course we agree with John’s emphasis and entreaty to avoid sin.  But if we also take seriously John’s concern regarding the Gnostic/Docetic opponents – that is, if we accept that the interpretation that the opponents have Gnostic/Docetic tendencies (which we probably should) – what this indicates is that John sees the “in Christ” life, the “walking in the light” life, the kingdom life, as what Eugene Peterson and others call an “earthly spirituality.” 

What I mean by that is that to follow Christ, to walk in the light, is to take seriously all of life.  Now we have talked recently about the Gnostic tendencies of 21st century western civilization.  I won’t review that here, but I suspect that most of us, with respect to these Gnostic tendencies, wouldn’t really claim that the body or the physical doesn’t matter.  Most of us wouldn’t make the claim that sins committed by the body don’t matter.  However, I do suspect that most or many of us are guilty of thinking that certain aspects of life are more spiritual (and thus matter more) than others. 

We may think that since we attend church every week, we’re spiritual enough.  Conversely, we may think that since we’re spiritual enough, we don’t need to attend church every week.  We may think that because we know a lot about theology or read a lot of Christian books, we don’t have to worry too much about that time we were rude or dismissive of a neighbour.  Maybe we think that because we work in a helping profession, we don’t have to be compassionate or kind in our home life.  Maybe we think that because we volunteer at church or a mission that we’re not called to give to the poor. 

Whatever it is, however we compartmentalize our lives, we tend towards the belief that because we’re good enough – or because we’re not as bad as “that person” –in certain areas of our lives, we trivialize other parts.  And what John is saying is that it all matters.  What John is pointing to is that we need Christ to redeem all the parts of our lives – that we need to follow Christ in every area of our lives.  We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of our lives are “truly important” – it’s all important and all of you matters to God. 

The second thing that I want to consider is what John means in verse 8.  We read: 

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

1 John 3:7-8

In particular, I want to focus on the phrase, “…the devil’s work.”  And this is set in the context of being led astray.  That is, the phrase “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” is related to being (or not being) led astray.  Now as we’ve already explored in several passages of 1 John, this being led astray has to do with following some way that is not Christ’s way; of walking in a way that is not “in the light”; of instead walking in a way that is of the world.  John’s exhortation is that his readers, instead of being led astray, must do what is right. 

And what I want to suggest is that “the devil’s work” (v.8) that John is pointing to is not just about avoiding particular sins, about avoiding particular actions.  Certainly this is the concrete issue that presents itself to John – this is John’s immediate concern.  But John’s larger concern is that this people walk in the light.  Again, the devil’s work is not to make people sin, per se.  Rather, it was to destroy human beings’ fellowship with God.  And John’s encouragement is that they not give way to sin, not minimize the significance of sin, but live fully into the life that is made possible by Jesus Christ. 

This leads us to what John is talking about in the first part of the passage.  I’ve left the first verses of today’s passage until now for the sake of emphasis, but also because (for me) this is the main message that I hope we take from this passage. 

In 2:28-3:3, we read: 

2:28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

1 John 2:28-3:3

Quite simply, what I want to suggest is that John is encouraging his hearers, his congregation, not to sin, not to take sin lightly, not to succumb to false teachers who would lead them astray.  John is encouraging his congregation not to be led astray from the fullness of life that is found, that is made possible, through Jesus Christ.  Because of the work completed by Jesus, those who trust in Him can have full confidence.  They can have full confidence that they will be made perfect, that the fullness of what they were meant to be will come to be in Christ Jesus.  When John says, “don’t sin,” (in my opinion) he’s really saying, “choose life!” 

“The reason the world does not know us,” says John, the reason the Christian way is so strange to the world is because the way of Christ is not the way of the world – the way of “not life.”  “What we will be [our eschatological reality] has not yet been made known (because we are still living in this life).  “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is [in the fullness of life-life].” 

This is the reality to which John calls us.  This is the reality in which John encourages us to put our hope, not the false hope of false teachers.  And because this is our future reality, John encourages us to live this in our present reality – to be the people of the Kingdom.

So, in summary, what I’m suggesting is that John is that has a very concrete concern – that is, there are some who are teaching (and some who have believed) that acts of sin don’t matter because these are of the body and they don’t affect the spirit.  John believes that the whole of life matters.  But more fully than this, John’s concern is that this disregard for sinfulness points to or leads to a disregard for full relationship with God.  Sin matters because the acts themselves contradict the law.  But the law matters, keeping the commandments matter, not in an arbitrary way, not because God is keeping score – we’ve said before that the Law is a reflection of or flows out of the character of God.  Therefore, keeping the Law matters because of fellowship with God.  And fellowship with God, or restoration of our relationship with God, is why Jesus came, why Jesus died, and why Jesus rose again.  This is the life to which John calls us – a life of full communion with God, a life of full restoration to what we were created for. 

Now all of this matters because so many of us are convinced to settle for so much less.  We are convinced by various voices in the world that we will be fulfilled, we will be happy, if only we can get more of some things or less of others.  Or we use God to get us what we think we want in this life.  We are keep looking for some sort of mystical key through which we can figure out this life.  For the Gnostics/Docetics, it was a focus on supernatural or divine knowledge.  But by searching for a key, we reduce life to less than.  We reduce what we were created for to what we can control. 

I love the phrase that John uses in 3:1, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.”  Other English translations use the word “bestowed,” or simply “given.”  But the NIV’s choice of the word lavished is evocative to me.  God has lavished love on us that we might be called children of God.  God has lavished love on us that we might enter into the true life.  God has lavished love on us that we might begin to be what we were meant to be. 

We hear (or might hear) so much that the life of the Christian is about avoiding things, about restriction, and even condemnation.  “Thou shalt not…” after all.  But the “not” is so that we don’t settle for less and so that we might enter into the more.  The “not” is so that we would not be led astray.  So that we might take hold of the great love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.

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