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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

1 John 3

Verses 1-6

Six arguments for holiness of life (1)

1 John 2:29 to 1 John 3:6

This passage has a twofold theme. Believers will live holy lives and they will love one another. Faith is always connected with a righteous life (James 2:20) and a spirit of love for all men, especially all believers (1 John 4:7). Several arguments or reasons are presented for godly living on the part of believers.

1 John 2:29 . The first argument for holiness of life is that if you know that Christ our Lord is absolutely righteous (obedient to the Father’s will in his thoughts, actions and words), you know that those who are begotten of him (in like manner) will seek to be like him in righteousness and obedience to the Father’s will. To be born of God is to have the nature of God, the grace of God and the presence of Christ formed in us, causing us to love and desire the will and ways of God.

1 John 3:1 . The second argument for holiness of life is the love of God which has been bestowed upon us. ‘Behold’ take notice with wonder and astonishment, what matchless, amazing and wonderful love the Father has given freely and graciously to us! The more abundantly God’s goodness has been manifested to us, the greater are our obligations to him (Romans 12:1). ‘That we should be called sons of God.’ This is a privilege and blessing that exceeds all others. Children of wrath are now children of love; rebels and traitors are now sons; enemies are now heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. How can we serve self and sin when we are recipients of such love and grace?

The reason the people of this world do not recognize and acknowledge us as children of God is that they do not know God. They did not know Christ but treated him with ridicule and contempt. It cannot be inferred (by natural men) from our present condition and state that God is our Father (John 6:42).

v.2. Though the world may not recognize us as sons of God, though our present condition is very short of God’s glory, though our bodies are flesh and death is before us, though we are subject to many miseries, temptations and trials, though we are aware of the sin and evil within us now, at this very moment, we are the sons of God! We are foolish to estimate what we shall be by what we are now. But we know from his word of promise that when Christ comes again, we shall be changed into his glorious image! (Romans 8:29; Joh 17:24 ; 1 Corinthians 15:45-54; Philippians 3:20-21).

v.3. The third argument for holiness of life is that every person who has this hope in him (that he will one day be like Christ, perfectly conformed to his image), who has a real desire to be like Christ (Psalms 17:15), will make every effort to be like Christ now! It is foolishness for a man to say, ‘I want to be like Christ some day, but not now! I want to fellowship with God in eternity, but not now!

v.4. The fourth argument for holiness of life is that every person who practices sin (designs a course or life of sin, ‘for there is no one who doeth good and sinneth not’), who excuses or justifies himself in the liberty of sin unrestrained and unregulated by the commands of Christ, is lawless and hateful to God, for sin is the breaking and violating of God’s law. No true believer can be happy outside the will and fellowship of God.

v.5. The fifth argument for holiness of life is the office and work of Christ to take away our sins.

1. In Christ, the believer has no sins (John 1:29; Romans 4:7-8).

2. But the main thought of this verse is that Christ came to destroy the reigning power of sin in the believer (Romans 6:5-16; Romans 8:5-14).

v.6. The sixth argument for holiness of life is that those who know Christ and abide in him do not habitually and deliberately practice a life of sin. They hate sin in them and about them. They grieve over their falls and their lack of grace. They desire and strive to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in word and deed.

Those who live in sin and continue to practice hate, intemperance, indifference, covetousness, greed, drunkenness and dishonesty have not seen the redemptive glory of Christ with eyes of faith and have never known Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Verses 7-13

Six arguments for holiness of life (2)

1 John 3:7-13

v.7. Do not be deceived by false prophets and wicked persons who preach that it does not matter how a person lives, provided he believes the gospel, or that knowledge of theology is sufficient without obedience to the lordship of Christ in conduct. This is not true. One cannot separate faith and conduct. As Christ our Lord showed himself to be a righteous man by doing good, obeying the Father and demonstrating love and compassion, so those who are united to him by faith, justified by his grace and regenerated by his spirit will seek to imitate their Lord. As a tree is know by its fruit, so a righteous man is known by his works. Good fruit does not make a tree good, but shows it to be good; so good works do not make us righteous (only Christ can do that), but show us to be so (James 2:14-20; James 2:26).

v.8. A man who practices sin, dishonesty, drunkenness, malice, envy, lies and disobedience to the commandments of Christ is not of God, but takes his character from the evil one, for Satan has violated the way and laws of righteousness from the beginning. He imitates Satan, not Christ, and resembles his parent as children do their parents (John 8:41-42). Christ came not only to put away our sins in regard to the penalty of them and the curse of the law, but to deliver us from the power of Satan and the practice of ungodliness (Romans 6:12-18).

v.9. He that is regenerated by the Spirit of God, in whom Christ is formed, who is a new creature in Christ, does not make sin his practice and course of his life. He is not without the motions of sin within, nor free from thoughts, words and deeds of sin in his life, but he does not give himself up to sin, excuse it, nor continue in it as a servant of sin. God’s nature and the grace of the Spirit abide in him and he cannot practice a life of sin; he is born of God! A life of sin is distasteful to him who pants after holiness and desire to be like Christ.

v.10. By attitude, conduct and daily walk it is made perfectly clear who are those who take their nature from God and are his children, and who are those who take their nature from the devil and are his children. No one who does not practice and seek godliness and righteousness, who does not seek to be conformed to the will of God in purpose, thought and deeds, is of God. A man who does not love others is not of God either. A godly walk and a spirit of love and mercy are evidences of grace and faith. The absence of these is evidence of the absence of grace.

v.11. The reason we can be so emphatic on this score is because this is the message sent from the Father by Christ, it is what his ministry declared and is the commandment which he often taught (John 13:34-35; John 15:12; John 15:17).

v.12. Let us not be like Cain, who took his nature and got his motivation from Satan and killed his brother. This was the first instance and example of hatred of the brethren. What was the cause of this hatred? What moved him to hate and kill his brother? Abel attributed everything to God all mercy, righteousness, forgiveness, acceptance and all grace. Cain attributed everything to himself. The controversy was over salvation by grace alone or by works! Cain hated his brother on this account. While his brother looked to God alone for salvation, Cain sought acceptance on the basis of his righteousness and works. So carnal men today hate those who find righteousness in Christ alone.

v.13. ‘Therefore, do not be amazed and surprised if the world (especially the religious world, as most men are) detest you and persecute you. Your faith in Christ condemns their self-righteousness and exposes their false hope!’ How often we have heard this claim: ‘If what you preach (meaning sovereign grace in Christ) is true, then I’m not saved!’ Yes, if what Abel believed and did is true and the only way to God, then Cain came the wrong way and was rejected. This was the cause of his hatred.

Verses 14-24

Six arguments for holiness of life (3)

1 John 3:14-24

v.14. Genuine love for the brethren is an evidence of redemption. It is not the cause but the sign, for no one sincerely loves his brethren unless he is regenerated by the Spirit of God. It is God’s spirit who sheds abroad God’s love in our hearts (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22). The love of the natural man is self-love (Luke 6:31-35). ‘He that loveth not’ continues in a state of spiritual death.

v.15. Anyone who hates another in his heart is a murderer, for out of the heart proceeded evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (Matthew 15:19-20; Matthew 5:21-22). An attitude of hate and a spirit of malice reveal an unregenerate heart, for salvation is a heart work. A man may keep his hands from mischief, but if he neglects the keeping of the heart he is in danger of condemnation (Proverbs 4:23).

v.16. John now shows what true love is. For an understanding of perfect love, he sets before us the example of Christ. He laid down his life for those whom he loved. This is the mark to which he bids us advance. Our love is approved when we transfer the love of ourselves to our brethren, forgetting ourselves and seeking the good and welfare of others. It is certain that we are far from being equal to Christ, but John recommends that we imitate him (Philippians 2:3-5; Romans 15:1-3; Romans 12:10).

v.17. John now speaks of the common duties of love.

1. No one truly has the love of God in him or a love for the brethren unless he really demonstrates that love and care when the occasion occurs. ‘If you are in need, what I have is yours,’ says love.

2. As far as anyone has the means, he will assist his brethren because he realizes that the Lord has entrusted us with what we have for the good of his kingdom and people. It is not ours at all, but his (1 Chronicles 29:14).

3. It is our responsibility to see that everyone’s needs (in the family of God) are met, not grudgingly or of necessity, but rejoicing that we are privileged to glorify our God and his grace in this way.

v.18. Let us not merely profess with our tongues that we love one another, but prove it by deeds; for this is the only true way of showing love. We read in scripture of the work and labor of love. Talking about love is mere show! Demonstrating love in meeting the physical, material and spiritual needs of others is love in truth.

v.19. Christ, not our love or works, is the object of our faith. Christ’s obedience and sacrifice, not our love or works, are the foundation of our faith. His spirit, using his word of promise, bears witness that we are the sons of God; and love is an aid, an accessory, a prop for our faith, not the foundation! If we in truth love our brethren, we have an evidence that we are of the truth and can have a good conscience and assurance before him! Peter’s heart was clear before Christ when he said, ‘Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.’

v.20. But if we do not find a genuine love for the brethren in our hearts and our hearts and consciences trouble us and condemn us over the absence of this love, what will be the judgment and condemnation of God against us? He is infinitely greater than our hearts and knows our feelings and thoughts perfectly. If our consciences (in their limited capacities) condemn us, think how he must judge and condemn us.

v.21. We are not talking here of having no sense of sin or awareness of our imperfections (Psalms 51:3-4; Philippians 3:12); but, staying with the context, if we know that we love and trust Christ alone, that there is in our hearts a love for the brethren, a desire to be like Christ and a confidence in his person and work, then we can have assurance and confidence of life eternal.

1 John 3:22-23. These two things are always connected confidence toward God and prayer (Hebrews 11:6). No one can really pray except those who have a sense of sonship in Christ and rightly worship God with a sincere and true heart. God hears those who believe on his Son and love one another. This is his commandment (John 6:29; John 13:34). Our confidence in prayer is not founded on our works, but the absence of faith in Christ and love for the brethren indicates an absence of that sonship which gives us the privilege of prayer.

v.24. This is what John has been saying throughout this entire chapter. Faith and conduct cannot be separated; belief and obedience are always found in the same heart. When his spirit and his word governs our hearts and lives, it is evident that Christ dwells in us and we dwell in Christ. Whatever good works are done by us proceed from the grace of his spirit who dwells in us.

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Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 3". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/1-john-3.html. 2013.