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Bible Commentaries

Gaebelein's Annotated Bible

1 John 3

Verses 1-18

IV. RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE AS MANIFESTED

BY THE CHILDREN OF GOD

CHAPTERS 2:28-3:18

1. The children of God and their coming manifestation (1 John 2:28 -1 John 3:3 )

2. Sin and the new nature (1 John 3:4-9 )

3. Righteousness and love (1 John 3:10-18 )

1 John 2:28 -1 John 3:3 .

The address to the babes in Christ ended with the 27th verse, and now once more he speaks of the teknia, the little children, by which all believers are meant. The exhortation has been much misunderstood. It does not mean that by abiding in Him the believer may have confidence at His appearing. John speaks of himself and other servants of Christ, who minister the gospel and the truth of God. He urges the little children to abide in Him, “that when He shall appear we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” He wants them to walk carefully, to be faithful in all things, so that John and the other servants may not be left ashamed in that coming day. It is the same truth which Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 .

1 John 2:29 mentions the test of righteousness. It is an acid test. “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.” But the purpose of it is not to question the reality of their salvation as born again, to make them doubt, but the test is given so that they might be enabled to reject a spurious profession. Before he proceeds with the truth expressed in this verse, he mentions the fact that as born of God they are the children of God and what they shall be.

In 1 John 3:1-2 the word “sons of God” must be changed to “children of God. “John never speaks of “sons of God” in his message. It is in the writings of Paul the Holy Spirit speaks of believers as “sons and heirs.” But John unfolds the truth that believers are in the family of God by the new birth, hence the use of the word “children” to denote the community of nature as born of God. As children of God we are partakers of the divine nature. It is the love of the Father which has bestowed this upon all who believe. And most emphatically the Spirit of God assures us through the pen of John, “Now we are the children of God.” There can be no doubt about it, it is our present and known position, because having believed on Him we are born again and are in possession of eternal life.

That which we shall be has not yet been manifested, but while it is not yet manifested we, nevertheless, know what we shall be. But how do we know? We know it because the Holy Spirit has revealed it in the Word of God. “But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” This is our blessed assurance! To this God has called us; it is “the hope of His calling” (Ephesians 1:18 ). It is that to which we are predestined, to see Him as He is and then infinitely more than that “to be like Him.” We see Him now by faith in His Word and are changed into the same image from glory to glory; when we shall see Him in that soon coming day, when He comes for His saints, we shall see Him bodily and then our bodies will be fashioned like unto His glorious body. Of all this the world knows nothing. It knew Him not, knew not His life, nor His glory; it does not know the life which is in the children of God and what glory awaits them. And this hope is a purifying hope. We see that John speaks of the blessed hope as Peter and James, addressing Jewish believers, do not.

1 John 3:4-9 .

He makes a contrast between sin and the new nature and shows the marks of one who abides in Christ and one who hath not seen Him neither knows Him. “Every one that practiseth sin, practiseth lawlessness; for sin is lawlessness, this is the correct rendering. The definition of sin as “transgression of the law” is misleading and incorrect. Before there ever was a law, sin was in the world (Romans 5:12 , etc.); how then can sin be the transgression of the law? It is not sins of which John speaks, but sin, the evil nature of man. Here the apostle regards man as doing nothing else but his own, natural will; he lives as a natural man. He acts independently of God, and, as far as he is concerned, never does anything but his own will. John is, therefore, not speaking. of positive overt acts, but of the natural man’s habitual bent and character, his life and nature.

The sinner, then, sins, and in this merely shows in it his state and the moral root of his nature as a sinner, which is lawlessness. But the born one, the child of God, is in a different position. He knows that Christ was manifested to take away our sins and that in Him there was no sin. If one knows Him and abideth in Him, that one sinneth not. If the believer sins it is because he has lost sight of Christ and does not act in the new life imparted unto him. Another object usurps the place of Christ, and then acting in self-will he is readily exposed to the wiles of the devil using his old nature and the world to lead him astray. If a man lives habitually in sin, according to his old nature, he hath not seen Him nor known Him. A child of God may sin but he is no longer living in sin; if a professing believer lives constantly in sin it is the evidence that he has not known Him at all. There were such who tried to deceive them. Their teaching was evidently a denial of holiness, that there was no need of righteousness. But the demand is for righteousness, while those who practise sin, live habitually in it, are of the devil. No true believer lives thus, for he knows the One whose life he possesses was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil.

“Whosoever is begotten of God doth not practise sin, because his seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.” This verse has puzzled many Christians, but it is quite simple. Every creature lives according to its nature. The fish has the nature of a fish and lives its nature in the water; a bird has its own nature and lives it in the air, and not under the water as the fish. Our Lord said to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Man has a fallen nature, the nature of sin, and that nature can do nothing but sin. That is why He said, “Ye must be born again.” In the new birth the divine nature is imparted. This nature is He Himself, Christ, the eternal life. Christ could not sin for He is God, and God cannot sin. The new nature believers possess cannot sin, for it is His nature. But why do new-born ones sin? Because the Christian has two natures, the old nature and the new nature. The old nature is not eradicated; a believer when he sins does so because he has given way to that old nature, has acted in the flesh. But the new nature followed will never lead to sin, for it is a holy nature, and for that nature it is impossible to sin. Some have suggested out of ignorance that the translation ought to be instead of cannot sin “ought not to sin,” or “should not sin.” The Greek text does not permit such a translation, anything different from “cannot sin” is an unscriptural paraphrase.

1 John 3:10-18 .

The test as to the children of God and the children of the devil follows in this section. Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. The message from the beginning, that is the same beginning as in 1 John 1:1 --is that we should love one another. This was the commandment given by the Lord, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12 ). There is natural affection in the world, even in the animal creation. The natural man also can make himself amiable and speak of love and toleration. In fact an amiable character, a loving disposition through self-improvement is urged and practised among the antichristian cults, such as New Thought, Christian Science and the Liberalists, the advocates of the new theology.

But the love of which John speaks is exclusively of God and unknown to the natural heart of man. Yet all these antichrists go to the Epistle of John and quote him to confirm their evil doctrine of “the brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God.” John does not speak of loving man as such, but loving the brethren, the other born ones in the family of God, and that is a divine love. It is the great test of the divine nature, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” The world not only knows nothing of that divine love, but the world hates those who are born of God. “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” This fact is illustrated by Cain. He was of the devil. He slew his brother because Cain’s works were evil, he was an unbeliever, and his brother’s were righteous, Abel believed and that was counted to him for righteousness. And so the world hates the brethren, the children of God on the same ground and for the same reason. Then again he tests profession: “He who loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” Hating the brother is the evidence that the professing Christian is in the state of death and linked with the murderer from the beginning.

The better rendering of 1 John 3:16 is, “Hereby we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” Such love must be manifested in practical ways towards the brethren.

“But ‘we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’ Not because we love certain of the brethren, let us remember. We may love even the children of God for some other reason than as His children. We may love them, perhaps in gratitude to them for services that we may be receiving from them. Further than this, we may mistake for brotherly love that which is merely self-love in a subtler form. Men minister to our comfort, please us, and we think we love them; and in the true child of God there may be yet, after all, as to much that he counts love to the brethren, a similar mistake. A love to the children of God, as such, must find its objects wherever these children are, however little may be, so to speak, our gain from them; however, little they may fit to our tastes. The true love of the children of God must be far other than sociality, and cannot be sectarian. It is, as the Apostle says, ‘without partiality, and without hypocrisy.’ This does not, of course, deny that there may be differences that still obtain. He in whom God is most seen should naturally attract the heart of one who knows God according to the apostle’s reasoning here. It is God seen in men whom we recognize in the love borne to them; but, then, God is in all His own, as the apostle is everywhere arguing; and, therefore, there is nothing self contradictory in what has been just said.” -- F.W. Grant.

Verses 19-24

V. HEREBY WE KNOW

CHAPTERS 3:19-5:13

1. Hereby we know that we are of the truth (1 John 3:19-24 )

2. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God (1 John 4:1-4 )

3. Hereby know we the Spirit of truth and of error (1 John 4:5-6 )

4. The Love manifested toward us (1 John 4:7-19 )

5. The final tests as to the possession of eternal life (1 John 4:20-21 ; 1 John 5:1-13 )

1 John 3:19-24 .

If the love of God dwells in the heart of the child of God it must be manifested in a practical way. Love must be expressed in deed and in truth, which is the fruit of true faith. If the believer does this he knows that he is of the truth. If it is lacking he is but an empty professing believer. But if we know that we are of the truth, by bearing such fruit of faith, we can assure our hearts before Him, and we can draw nigh with confidence. As our hearts do not condemn us, knowing that we are of the truth, we have confidence toward God and whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. Where there is not a good conscience and the Holy Spirit is grieved real nearness to God and the effectual prayer which availeth much are impossible. It is the same blessed truth our Lord spoke in connection with the parable of the vine. “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you (John 15:7 ).

But what is His commandment? Strange that some expositors have read into it the Ten Commandments. The context answers the question: “And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment. And He that keepeth His commandment dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit He hath given to us.”

1 John 4:1-4 .

The last sentence of the preceding chapter gives the assurance that the believer has the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as a true child of God without the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit is the proof that He Himself dwells in us. But how do we know that it is the Spirit of God? How can a test be made? The sphere of the Spirit is the territory in which the spirit of error and darkness operates and where the liar from the beginning counterfeits. Many false prophets inspired by the spirit of darkness had gone out into the world and the apostle gives a warning not to believe every spirit but to try the spirits. The true test is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.

But this means more than a mere confession with the lips, it means to own the person and lordship of Jesus Christ our Saviour. The demons know how to confess Him and yet they are demons (Matthew 8:29 ). The spirit of antichrist denies Him, does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This spirit which is not the Spirit of God manifests itself in the most subtle forms. It is called “true Christian charity” in our days to make common cause in what is called “social service” with those who do not confess Christ, who do not own Him as Saviour and Lord. These many antichrists speak of Him as man, they go so far as to call Christ a manifestation of God in human form, but they deny that He is very God come in the flesh.

As stated before the most prominent form of it is today the denial of His virgin birth. Anything which denies the full glory of the Lord Jesus Christ which in any way detracts from His glory, is the spirit of antichrist. About a hundred years ago a movement was in existence which claimed to be another Pentecost, just as there are movements today which claim the same unscriptural thing. The leader of that movement, Edward Irving, put great stress upon the incarnation, that Jesus came in the flesh. But after a while the demons which stood behind the movement brought forth the horrible doctrine of the peccability of Christ, that He had a corrupt nature like any other man. Such is the subtlety of Satan, the old serpent. He always strikes at Christ and His glory.

“The false prophets are certainly no fewer in number at the present time than when the apostle spoke; yet, in general, we may say they assume less divine authority. We have sunk down so far into the wisdom of the world that man is credited with a place which God has lost. Inspiration is the inspiration of genius, rather than of God. We are more and more getting to lose the reality of the last, just as we are coming more and more to believe in the former. We believe in brilliancy, in eloquence, in intellect, in whatever you please in this way, but the assumption of speaking in any direct way by the Spirit of God no more exists, for the mass, except as one may say that the Spirit of God is as liberal as men are, and speaks in very diverse fashion--in poets, philosophers, and all the acknowledged leaders among men” (Numerical Bible).

1 John 4:5-6 .

The fifth verse has a good description of these antichrists and their following. These men, with their boasted learning and scholarship, their great swelling words, called eloquence, their natural amiability and cultured, courteous manners are of the world. They were never born again. If they had ever seen themselves lost and undone, and found in Christ their peace with God, they would yield complete obedience to Him and not deny His glory. When they speak they speak of the world. They speak of world conditions, and how they may be improved, of a better human society. Quite true they are even religious, but what they speak is not that which is of the Spirit, but what concerns the world system. The crowds want to hear that for it pleases the flesh, and thus the devil brings his audience to hear them. Such antichrists in cap and gown have multiplied by the thousands; they are found in the leading pulpits of all denominations.

The test as to the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error is stated in these words: “We are of God; He that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. Hereby know we the Spirit of truth and of error.” The test is the apostle’s doctrine. The Epistles are the full revelation of the doctrine of Christ, they contain the “many things” which the Lord spoke of when on earth, and which should be revealed when the Holy Spirit came. He has come and has made known the blessed things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him, but which are now revealed by His Spirit, the Spirit of truth (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ). The spirit of error denies these doctrines. In our day the enemy has invested a most subtle slogan, “Back to Christ.” It sounds well but behind it stands the father of lies. These men who speak of going back to Christ charge our beloved brother Paul with having a theological system of his own, which they claim Christ, on earth, never taught. They reject the great redemption truths made known by the Lord through the apostle to the Gentiles. Their cry “Back to Christ” is the spirit of antichrist.

1 John 4:7-19 .

These blessed words are addressed to the beloved, true believers. The great center of this passage is “God is Love.” Love is of God. But how do we know that God is Love? Such an antichristian system as “Christian Science” babbles about the love of God, but that which alone expresses the love of God, and by which it is known that God is love, they reject completely. The question, how do we know that God is love is answered in 1 John 4:9-10 . “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Apart from this there is no knowledge of the love of God. He who is born again knows that love, for in believing it (John 3:16 ) he receives eternal life, and that love was perfect in Him when we had no love for Him--not that we loved God, but that He loved us. In His great love He has met every need.

This love, the nature of God, is in those who are born again, Every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” Love therefore is the very essence of the new nature and must be manifested towards all who are the objects of the love of God and are in the family of God by having believed that love.

“His presence, Himself, dwelling in us rises in the excellency of His nature above all the barriers of circumstances, and attaches us to those who are His. It is God in the power of His nature which is the source of thought and feeling and diffuses itself among them in whom it is. One can understand this. How is it that I love strangers from another land, persons of different habits, whom I have never known, more intimately than members of my own family after the flesh? How is it that I have thoughts in common, objects infinitely loved in common, affections powerfully engaged, a stronger bond with persons whom I have never seen, than with the otherwise dear companions of my childhood? It is because there is in them and in me a source of thoughts and affections which is not human. God is in it. God dwells in us, What happiness! What a bond! Does He not communicate Himself to the soul? Does He not render it conscious of His presence in love? Assuredly, yes. And if He is thus in us, the blessed source of our thoughts, can there be fear, or distance, or uncertainty, with regarding to what He is? None at all. His love is perfect in us” (John N. Darby).

His love is perfected in us by loving one another. Once more he uses the phrase “Hereby we know.” “Hereby we know that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” “The Love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the indwelling Spirit.” He proceeds: “We have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the son of God, God dwelleth in Him and he in God.” What wonderful words these are! Can there be anything greater and more wonderful than dwelling in God and God dwelling in us! And this is true of every believer. If we confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, if we rest in His finished work as well, knowing the Father sent Him to be the Saviour, and our Saviour therefore, then the Holy Spirit dwells in us and as a result God dwelleth in us and we in God. There can be no question about it for God says so.

The enjoyment of it is a different matter. If it is not real to us and if we do not enjoy it there is something which hinders it in ourselves. If a great king should pay us a visit in our home and dwell there and we do not recognize the fact of the honor and privilege bestowed upon us, and if we do not trouble about it and show our appreciation of it, we would have no enjoyment in such a visit. To have the reality of it and enjoy the wonderful truth that God dwells in us and we in Him we must practise what our Lord said in John 14:23 , “If a man love Me he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode in Him.” We must dwell in love, the very nature of God, and that love is manifested towards Him and towards the brethren. 1 John 4:12 and 1 John 4:16 make this clear. “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.”

Another important fact is stated in the verses which follow: “Herein hath love been perfected with us, that we have boldness in the day of judgment, because as He is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear has torment; and he that feareth is not perfected in love.” It has nothing to do with our love, as some take it nor with seeking an experience of being “perfect in love.” It is His love which casteth out fear, believing that love and dwelling in it. If we believe and know what God has made us in His infinite grace what Christ is, that as He is so are we, how can we fear anything! The coming day of judgment we await not only without any fear, but with boldness, for the day will only bring the full display of what Christ is and what we are in Him and with Him. The knowledge of His perfect love, the love which has reached down to us and lifted us so high, casteth out all fear.

(“It is a blessed love that Christ came into the world for such sinners as we are. But then there is the day of judgment. When I think of the love, I am all happy; but when I think of the day of judgment, my conscience is not quite easy. Though the heart may have tasted the love, the conscience not being quite clear, when I think of judgment I am not quite happy. This is what is provided for here. ‘As He is so are we in this world.’ The love was shown in visiting us when we were sinners; it is enjoyed in communion: but it is completed in this, that I am in Christ, and that Christ must condemn Himself in the day of judgment, if He condemns me, because He is, so am I in the world, I am glorified before I get there. He changes this vile body and makes it like to His glorious body. When I am before the judgment seat, I am in this changed and glorified body; I am like my judge” Synopsis of the Bible.)

1 John 4:20-21 ; 1 John 5:1-13 .

Once more brotherly love is applied as the test. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” God is in the believer, he is the object of God’s love, if therefore the brother is not loved, but hated, it is an evidence that God does not dwell in such a heart and again the beloved disciple brands such an one as a liar.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him.” This is very logical. Then he gives a counter test to show that it is genuine. “By this we know, that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.” If we love God and keep His commandments, we can rest assured that we love the children of God also. If the soul goes out to Him in love, and it is shown by unreserved fidelity to His will, then love for those begotten of Him, the other members of the family of God, will be the result. “For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not grievous.” It is a different thing from the law which is called elsewhere a yoke which no one was able to bear (Acts 15:10 ). Keeping His commandments means to be obedient to His Word, being subject unto Him in all things, for love to God is the spirit of obedience. But the children of God are in the world, though no longer of it. There are hindrances all about in the world which knew Him not and which know not the children of God. All in this world is opposition to God and hinders true obedience. But that which is born of God overcometh the world. Our faith is the victory which overcometh the world. What faith is it? It is the faith which is occupied with the Son of God, which yields obedience to Him, does His will. Such a faith is the victory that overcomes the world and its attractions. This is stated in 1 John 5:5 .

“And He, the Son of God, even Jesus Christ, came by water and blood-not by water only, but by water and blood.” “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6 ). How beautiful is this passage and what divine perfection it reveals! Only John in his Gospel gives the account of the opened side of our adorable Saviour and that water and blood came forth out of the pierced side. “And he that saw it (John) bare record and his record is true and he knoweth that he saith true that ye might believe” (John 19:35 ). What the sinner needs is cleansing, a cleansing morally and a cleansing from guilt. The water is for cleansing, the blood telling of expiation cleanses from guilt. To make here of the water, baptism, and of the blood, the Lord’s Supper, is as false as it is ridiculous. It is purification and propitiation as accomplished and provided for in the death of Christ for the believer. As a result the Holy Spirit is here on earth. Note the Apostle John does not put forward his own testimony here as given in the above passage, but the Holy Spirit Himself beareth witness to it. He is on earth for this purpose to bear witness to Christ and the work of Christ. How awful the rejection of that witness appears in the light of these words--that rejection which is so widespread and pronounced in antichristian modernism!

The seventh verse (1 John 5:17 )has no business in our Bibles. It must be stricken out. It is an interpolation and all the historical evidences are against it. The oldest manuscripts do not contain these words which we read in 1 John 5:7 . Leaving out this inserted verse we notice the connection which exists between 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 5:8 . “And there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are one.” The Spirit is the abiding witness of accomplished redemption, and He dwells in the believer.

1 John 5:9-13 need no further detailed annotations. They are so plain and simple that only one wilfully blind can misunderstand them. God’s witness is concerning His Son. The believer who believes on the Son of God hath the witness in himself, that is, by the indwelling Spirit, and by the salvation he possesses, the new nature, the eternal life. Any man who does not believe God’s witness concerning His Son hath made Him a liar. Think of it, dear reader, the creature of the dust makes God, who cannot lie, a liar! This is the heinous sin of the great religious world. The record we have is, that God hath given to us eternal life, that this life is in His Son, that if we have the Son we have life, if we have not the Son we have not life. 1 John 5:13 concludes the argument and teaching of the Epistle concerning eternal life.

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Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on 1 John 3". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/1-john-3.html. 1913-1922.