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Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

The Glory, Privileges, and Obligations of Sonship.

The beauty of the sonship of God:

v. 1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him. not.

v. 2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.

v. 3. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.

It was righteousness in life and conduct which the apostle had been urging. He now introduces another motive for such conduct: See how great a love the Father has given to us that we should be called the sons of God, and are. The Christians should behold and see, they should use the eyes of both body and mind, they should concentrate their attention upon that miracle, upon that mystery, that we should be honored with the name of children of God. To have been taken out of the state of wrath and damnation and to have been placed into such intimate fellowship with God as to have been born anew through the power of His Spirit in the Word, that is the experience which we have had. Children of God, that is what we are by faith in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:26, sons of God, led by the Spirit of God, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, Romans 8:14-17. The image of God, lost by the Fall, is being renewed in us. once more, Christ Himself is being formed in us. Galatians 4:19. What unspeakable, immeasurable majesty is ours! With this assurance in our hearts we can well bear what the apostle tells us: For this reason the world does not know us, because it does not know Him. The children of this world will not know, will not acknowledge us, will consider us beneath their notice, because we are the children of God, with all that this relation implies. The world did not know, did not acknowledge God as the Lord, did not accept Him in faith, and therefore it cannot possibly enter into friendly relations with us. His children; the unbelievers refuse to acknowledge the new, spiritual, divine character which the Christians show.

For our comfort, however, the apostle repeats and amplifies his statement: Beloved, now are we the children of God, and not yet has it been manifested what we shall be; we know that, when it shall be manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. By nature we were the children of wrath and of Satan, but now, by our conversion, we have become and are children of God. Of that fact we are assured in so many passages of Scriptures that there can be no doubt in our minds. This confidence is not shaken either by the statement that it has not yet been manifested what we shall be. Although we have the certainty of our sonship even now and enjoy many of its blessings, yet the full glory of our future state has not yet been revealed to us. But when that revelation will take place, on the day when Christ will appear to us in the fullness of His glory, then we shall be like God the Lord, as nearly like Him as it is possible for creatures to become; then the image of God will be restored in us in the perfection of its beauty; then we shall be holy and righteous before Him. No longer shall we then view Him through a glass, darkly, but we shall see God face to face, as He is, in all the inexpressible beauty of His holiness and love. This seeing of God will, at the same time, be the means by which the image of God in us will ever again be renewed and kept in the fullness of its glory. That is the certain hope of the believers, a confidence which cannot fail.

It is self-evident, then, for a Christian: And every one that has this hope resting upon Him will purify himself, just as He is pure. Every one without exception that clings to this hope of the final glorious revelation, every one that rests his confidence in God, as the Author and Finisher of his salvation, will find it self-evident that he separates and cleanses himself from all defilements and carnal allurements, from everything that is an abomination in the sight of God. We have the example of Christ before our eyes always, as one who was perfectly pure and holy. It is impossible for Christians that have such hope in their hearts any longer to serve sin. This hope nourishes and strengthens the new life which was created in us in regeneration unto the genuine righteousness of life.

Verses 4-6

To abide in Him means not to sin:

v. 4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the Law; for sin is the transgression of the Law.

v. 5. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin.

v. 6. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.

Here the apostle shows that deliberate, malicious sinning is incompatible with the new life of the Christians: Every one that commits sin commits also lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. That the apostle makes a distinction between sins of malice and those of weakness, such as come upon a person unawares, is seen from chap. 2:1. Of the former he speaks in this passage. Every one that is in the habit of committing sins thereby places himself in lasting opposition to the Law of God. He commits lawlessness, he deliberately does the opposite of that which the holy will of God demands of all men; he performs what God hates, what He has threatened to punish with temporal death and eternal damnation

Now it is true, in general, with regard to the sins of all men: And you know that He was manifested to bear our sins, and sin is not in Him. This is the gist of the Gospel-message, the great truth with which all believers are familiar. Christ was manifested. He came into the world. He appeared in the fullness of time in order to bear and take away our sins, to atone for all the sins of all mankind, to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice of propitiation for all time. The handwriting which was against us has been completely wiped out through the salvation of Christ. His sacrifice had such infinite worth because in Him there is no sin; He is the innocent Lamb of God, His blood, as that of the holy Son of God, is the complete price of ransom for all the guilt that was heaped up before the just God.

From this fundamental fact it follows: Every one that remains in Him does not sin; every one that sins has not seen Him nor known Him. Our knowledge of the salvation of Christ is a living knowledge, a living faith. It is through this faith that we have fellowship with Christ, that we are and remain in Christ. In this union the Christian as such does not sin, he refuses to serve sin, he keeps his heart, mind, and thoughts away from sinful things, he will not yield his members to be servants of unrighteousness, Romans 6:1-14. On the other hand, every one that persists in sin, in lawlessness, in opposition to God's holy will thereby give evidence that he has not seen nor known Christ by faith. If a person is in any way a willing servant of sin and still tries to persuade himself and others that he is a Christian, he is merely deceiving himself. Note; These words of the apostle do not state, as the so-called perfectionists claim, that a Christian here on earth will reach a stage in which he, in his own person, is sinless. Because we still have our sinful nature to contend with, therefore we Christians are prone to stumble and even to fall. It is according to the new man that we are pure in the sight of God, for the sake of Christ's righteousness; it is according to our regenerated self that we do not commit sin and keep all our members in subjection unto holiness. But our carnal self, the old Adam, transgresses the will of God in countless instances, thus imposing upon us the duty to wage incessant warfare against it, as St. Paul has so clearly pictured it, Romans 7:14-24.

Verses 7-12

Doing righteousness:

v. 7. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth. righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.

v. 8. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth. from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

v. 9. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in Him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.

v. 10. In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

v. 11. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

v. 12. Not as Cain, who was of that Wicked One and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother's righteous.

So much depends upon the genuineness of Christian conduct that the apostle warns against every form of deceit: Little children, let no one deceive you: he that practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; he that commits sin is of the devil, for from the beginning the devil sins. This clear statement is intended to remove all misunderstandings and prevent every form of deception. The righteous disposition of the heart, the Christian character as it is molded by faith, is bound to express itself in righteous conduct. Christ the Lord is the type, the example, the pattern of righteousness, of a life of perfect holiness. A spiritual child of God will have His character, a disciple of Christ will follow the Master. On the other hand, a person that deliberately commits sin, that is a servant of sin, thereby shows himself an apt pupil, a very child of the devil, a workshop of Satan, for he works in the children of disobedience, uses them as his tools for committing every form of trespass, Ephesians 2:2; John 8:44. For the devil sins from the beginning. The very first sin which is recorded was caused by him, since he had even before that rebelled against God; and he has, from that time, induced men to sin, made them his slaves, the servants of unrighteousness and damnation. It is a terrible picture which the apostle paints, one from which a Christian may well turn with shuddering.

All the greater, then, is the comfort in the next words: For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. This glorious object was achieved as one of the aims of Christ's salvation. He was manifested, He came into the world. He assumed true humanity, in order that as our Substitute He might altogether dissolve and thus destroy every work by which the devil exerted his power, loose the bonds of sin in which men were held captive, take away the power and influence of the devil by which he tried to drag us down forever into his kingdom, deliver us from his sovereignty by virtue of which all the unconverted perform the works of darkness.

And there is another glorious truth: Every one that is born of God does not commit sin, for His offspring remain in Him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. The birth out of God takes place through the Gospel and through the power of the Holy Ghost in the Gospel. When this regeneration, this new birth, has been achieved, then it is true that such a child of God, according to the new, divine nature which he has in himself, cannot sin, cannot be forced back into the slavery of sin. It is natural for the children, the offspring, of God to remain in Him, and thus to do only that which is pleasing to Him. Moreover, the seed of the Word of God, which wrought regeneration in the Christian in the first place, continues in him, has its home in his heart, makes his heart fruitful in all good works. The new birth in God is the reason why such a person cannot sin; for by becoming a servant of sin, he would be guilty of deeds which would deny and destroy the new birth. Thus the attitude of every person with regard to sin and righteousness reveals his offspring: In this are manifest the children of God and the children of the devil: every one that does not practice righteousness is not of God, and he that does not love his brother. Every one that does not make righteousness his goal, does not strive after perfection with all the power at his command, does not make the will of God the sphere of his activity, thereby offers unmistakable evidence of not being born of God, of still being a child of the devil a terrible condition!

And the same test may be applied with regard to the practice of brotherly love: For this is the message which you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. The apostle reverts to this topic time and again, To him brotherly love is the very essence and substance of the Christian life. The tree is known by its fruit, and the faith of the Christian must be revealed in love. That, according to the Word of God, according to the last instructions of Jesus, is the outstanding trait and characteristic of the believer: he must show his appreciation of the wonderful blessings of Christ of which he has become a partaker in his love toward his fellow-Christians and toward all men. The very antithesis of such unselfish love is shown in the example of Cain: Not like Cain, who was of the Evil One and slew his brother; and for what reason slew he him? Because his works were wicked, but those of his brother just. Cain, the first murderer, received the inspiration for his evil deed from the devil himself, who is a murderer from the beginning, John 8:44. Having rejected that which was good, he became a servant of selfishness and sin. At the same time, he was jealous of the pure character of his brother Abel, just as the unbelievers in our days resent the fact that the Christians refuse to join them in their blasphemy of God and in their various transgressions of the holy will of God, 1 Peter 4:4. That was the reason why he slew his brother, because he could not bear the comparison in favor of Abel, because it angered him that God accepted Abel's sacrifice rather than his own.

Verses 13-18

True brotherly love:

v. 13. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

v. 14. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

v. 15. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

v. 16. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

v. 17. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

v. 18. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

The apostle, first of all, makes a general application of the thought which was included in the last sentence: And do not wonder, brethren, if the world hates you. What the righteous Abel experienced in the first days of the world's history is the lot of all the righteous since his time. So it must not be a matter of surprise to us if we incur the hatred and must bear the enmity of the children of the world. John 15:18-19; John 17:14; Matthew 10:16. Although the Christians are offering to the unbelievers the most wonderful blessings which were ever brought to this earth, although their one aim is to do good to all men, yet the unregenerate persistently resent the refusal of the Christians to join them in their transgressions. But this is not to be marveled at, because we are dealing with the world, with the children of unbelief, with such as willingly become identified with the trespass of Cain. Because the unbelievers prefer their life of sin and unbelief, which will finally land them in everlasting destruction, they cannot but hate the Christians.

The contrast, therefore, will remain: On our part, we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren; he that does not love his brother remains in death. The distinction between unbelievers and believers, between world and Church, is clear and will remain till the end of time. So far as we are concerned, we have the knowledge, we are sure, that we have left our former state of spiritual death and have passed over to the true life in and with God. Our hearts that were formerly dead in sins are now turned to God in faith and love. We know that we have forgiveness of sins, and thus we have the willingness and the power to do that which pleases God. It was not a case of our choosing to embrace the truth, but of God's choosing us and drawing us to Himself in the fullness of His mercy and grace. Of this we have evidence in the fact that we love the brethren. If we had not been converted through the power of God, it would be impossible for us to love the brethren. Noun-regenerated person is able to feel and to give evidence of real, genuine love. But the absence of this love is a sure sign that such a person is still lying in the death of sins. Moreover, he will remain in this spiritual death as long as he continues in his uncharitable attitude. In a case of this kind all external worship, all pretense at prayer, all churchgoing, all conversing of God and things divine, will avail nothing whatever: he that has no true love and gives no evidence of true love will remain in death until the Spirit of God works spiritual life in him.

The apostle repeats the same truth from the positive side: Every one that hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. In the phraseology of St. John, "not to love" and "to hate" are evidently synonyms; there is no neutral ground. That is the condition of natural man after the Fall: he has no true love for his neighbor in his heart, but only hatred, since being indifferent in the sight of God is identical with hating. Natural man is selfish and loves only himself. And therefore he is, in the judgment of God, a murderer, a homicide; for God judges the disposition of the heart. This is one of the strongest passages in Scriptures to throw the responsibility, also for sins of desire, of the heart, on the sinner. And all such men, all that are guilty of hatred, of the lack of proper love for their brother, have not the eternal life, that spiritual life which is begun in conversion and lasts beyond the grave, abiding in them. They belong in the kingdom of the devil, the murderer from the beginning. That is the terrible, the fearful lot of those that do not love their brethren. What an earnest warning to Christians not to let the love for their brethren leave their hearts, since the new spiritual life cannot remain in their hearts under such circumstances!

The apostle now gives a description and example of genuine brotherly love: In this have we known love, that He has laid down His life for us; and we should lay down our lives for the brethren. This is the one perfect example and type of love for all times. We Christians have realized and know what love is and means, wherein true love consists, how it expresses itself, in the example of Christ. For He, out of free love and merciful favor, laid down His life for us; He suffered the death which we had earned by our sins. His own holy life He laid down as the ransom, as the price, thus giving up the greatest, the most precious of earth's gifts in order to deliver us. As one that was cursed of God, as a criminal in the sight of men He gave up His life. This example of love, than which there can be none more perfect, we Christians have before our eyes always. It teaches us the great lesson and obligation to love our brethren to such a degree as also to be willing to lay down our lives for them, if it will be for their benefit, to their advantage. Naturally this greatest sacrifice includes all the smaller services which we are called upon to perform for the brethren, the Christians ever forgetting, denying themselves in order to help and be of service to others.

Diametrically opposed to such unselfishness is the conduct which the apostle describes: But whoever has a living in this world and sees his brother have need and shuts up his mercies from him, how does the love of God remain in him? If we are under obligations to give up the highest and most precious gift of life for the sake of our brother, the smaller sacrifices, the minor evidences of love, will certainly offer no difficulties. If a person has a comfortable living in this world, if he possesses enough of this world's goods for his own support and that of his family, those dependent upon him, he should really have incentive enough to share willingly with those in need. If such a one, however, sees his brother, his neighbor, in want, lacking the actual necessities of life, if he becomes a witness of his sorry plight, and yet closes up his heart before him, turns from him in the hardness of his heart, surely the conclusion is justified that he has lost the love and the faith which he might have possessed at one time. In such a case the Lord will also turn from him, will withdraw His love from the heartless wretch, since the love which the Lord demanded of him is no longer in evidence in his conduct and life. He has fallen back into spiritual death.

St. John, therefore, admonishes: Little children, let us not love with word or with the tongue, but in deed and in truth. Talk is cheap, as St. James shows, chap. 2:15-16, but it does not provide warm clothing or nourishing food. The mere expression of good will, unless backed up by real deeds, by acts which will provide the assistance for which the need is shown to exist, is worthless, a hollow sound. In some cases, indeed, it may be forgetfulness on the part of the Christians when they fail to provide for needs which are shown to exist, but in others there is danger of damnable hypocrisy, that covetousness and love of money hinder the professed Christian from showing concrete proof of the brotherly love of which he should give evidence. This admonition is certainly timely in these latter days of the dying out of true love, Matthew 24:12.

Verses 19-24

The reassurance of the Spirit:

v. 19. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

v. 20. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things.

v. 21. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

v. 22. And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

v. 23. 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.

v. 24. And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.

This paragraph contains comfort of a singular kind, since it reassures the believer against himself: In this we shall know that we are out of the truth, and reassure our hearts before Him, that, if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things. A believer naturally wants nothing to do with hypocrisy; he wants to be, rather, a child of the truth, a follower of the truth, also in the matter of brotherly love. The love shown to the brethren is in itself an evidence, a proof, of the new spiritual life in the heart of the believers. As the Christian, however, grows in sanctification, he will often find that his heart is dissatisfied with the progress made, and therefore proceeds to accuse him of lack of love. It is true, of course, that, as in all matters pertaining to the righteousness of life, so also in the matter of brotherly love, we are far from perfection. And yet we can reassure ourselves before the tribunal, in spite of the condemnation of our heart. For God is a greater, a more reliable Judge than our heart, and He has given us the definite assurance in His Word that all our shortcomings in the matter of perfect righteousness will be made up through the perfect righteousness of our Savior, as it was imputed to us by faith. He who knows all things also knows that, in spite of our faults and weaknesses, we are His children by faith in Christ Jesus, and that our imperfections are not due to our lack of spiritual willingness or to hypocrisy. Thus we may defend ourselves against the condemnations of our own heart.

The result is, as the apostle puts it: Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have boldness toward God, and whatsoever we ask we receive from Him, since we keep His commandments and do what is best before Him. If we reach that stage in our spiritual life where the reassurance of the Word of God has quieted the accusations of our heart and we rely, without any self-confidence, in His promises, then we are filled with boldness, with childlike confidence toward God; we may then freely approach Him, as dear children go to their dear father. In this confidence we also lay our needs before our heavenly Father, trusting that He will give us what He thinks best. Our trust is never put to shame, for we shall receive from Him what we desire in prayer. For we are God's children, reconciled to Him by the blood of His Son; we have His full forgiveness for all our daily sins and shortcomings, and we keep His commandments and strive, although in great weakness, to do only such things as please Him in every way. With this relation obtaining between Him and us, we are happy, though not perfect Christians. We know, of course, that all our efforts do not earn for us an answer to our prayers, but we also have the assurance that God is well pleased with us. His children, for the sake of the great and merciful love which He bears toward us, and will give us the strength for which we ask.

And this strength is truly needed for the keeping of His great commandment: And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another, as He has given us a commandment. That is the first and supreme command and will of God, that we poor sinners confidently believe in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, His Son; that we rely without wavering upon the atonement which was made through His blood, and that we show this faith of our hearts in fervent love toward one another, just as He Himself commanded us to do, John 13:34; John 15:12. Out of the faith which God desires, which He commands, which He gives and works, the true love toward our brethren will flow so naturally that the keeping of God's commandments will follow as a matter of course.

The apostle, therefore, concludes: And he that keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him; and herein we know that He abides in us, from the Spirit whom He has given us. St. John once more emphasizes the glorious fruit of the fellowship which obtains by faith between the Father and Christ, on the one hand, and the believers, on the other. Keeping the Lord's commandments and loving the brethren is a fruit of faith and an evidence of the presence of the Savior in the believer's heart. This evidence is so sure, so reliable, because the Holy Ghost, whom He has given us, is working brotherly love in our hearts. Brotherly love could not be present if the Savior were not living in our hearts; and the Savior would never have made our hearts His abode if it had not been for the power of the Spirit. But this combination of circumstances is so strong that it drives away all doubt and fear and fills our hearts with the calm confidence of faith.

Summary. The apostle speaks at length of the glory, the privileges, and the obligations of the sonship of God, showing wherein this beauty consists, explaining that true fellowship with God implies overcoming sin and doing righteousness, and stating that the reassurance of the Spirit overcomes the very condemnation of our own heart.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 John 3". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/1-john-3.html. 1921-23.
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