You are called to overcome sin. Unless you are perfectly holy you will not see God. This leaves us all––as the kids might say—hosed. Adam’s sin––and mankind’s daily sin––indicates our covenant union with the devil. The only hope for us is a new covenant.
1 John 3:1-6 ff.— 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. 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. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. . . .
Summary of the Text
God’s great love to us is manifest in our new birth as His sons and this new identity sets us at odds with the world (v1). Though we aren’t entirely sure of all the glories the resurrection will unveil, we know that it is likeness to Christ, the Son of God, which will be the distinguishing feature (v2). Hoping in Christ secures our purification, because He is pure (v3). Man is a lawbreaker, and by definition is a sinner (v4); but Christ came to take away our sin (v5). By abiding in Christ we are no longer reckoned as sinners, because sinners don’t know Jesus (v6). Union with Christ not only forgives (cf. 1 Jn. 1:9), but justifies and sanctifies us. Because He is righteous, we are righteous and can now do righteously (v7). Sinners trace their lineage to the first sinner, Satan; but God came in the flesh to destroy the devil’s works (v8), and thus deliver us from positional and indwelling sin through the new birth (v9).
This difference of spiritual lineage is evidenced in love for one another (vs.10-12). Wordly Cain hated righteous Abel, just like the world hates the church (v13). The fruit (not the root) of the new birth is love for the brethren (v14), and murderous hatred is proof that the eternal life—which was with the Father in Christ (cf. 1 Jn. 1:2)—does not abide in you (v15).
God’s love is perceived through Christ’s sacrifice, and we are to model that (v16). Jesus’ sacrifice is not simply an example, but the reason we open the coffers of generosity to our brothers in need (v17). We don’t just pay lip service to sacrificial charity and love, we put it into practice (v 18).
Assurance of salvation is real (v19) but it isn’t found in our condemning heart (v20). Our hearts see our sin and condemns us, but God is greater than our condemnation and, in Christ, declares there is therefore now no condemnation (cf. Rom. 8:1); if He doesn’t condemn us, we shouldn’t condemn us (v21). Because we are now His children, we can ask for whatsoever of our Father knowing He will not only hear but also grant our requests, because of our covenantal obedience (v22). The terms of the covenant are: love God by believing on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, then love your neighbor, while all the while the Spirit grants assurance that “it is well with my soul” (v23-24).
A Defeated Foe
John spends a lot of airtime on the relationship between Christ’s incarnation and our sinful state and sinful actions. The devil doesn’t feature in this discussion of sin until we learn that sinners are covenantally descended from the devil. However, this is immediately followed by informing us that his works have been destroyed by the Son of God being manifested in the flesh. It was for this very purpose that Jesus came: to destroy all of Satan’s war-engines. Our covenant with Satan has been broken, and his siege upon mankind is overthrown. Now we are covenantally united with God through His Son––eternally with the Father (cf. Jn. 1:1)––because He became a man and dwelt among us that He might represent us. Christ’s incarnation sounded the death knell for Satan’s kingdom.
Remember, in your battle with sin, you are fighting a defeated foe. This is taught in WC: “In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Salvation By Commandment Keeping?
God hearing and answering our prayers because we keep His commandments might seem like works righteousness (1 Jn. 2:3 & 3:22). But notice that this whole letter hinges on our new covenantal status: born of God by His indwelling seed.
John shows that union with Christ has cultural implications (both for Jews and Greeks); redemptive implications; ethical implications; covenantal implications; theological implications; relational implications; eschatological implications. It matters everywhere and permeates everything.
The root of your salvation is you in Christ, but the fruit of your salvation is Christ in you. Assurance of salvation isn’t: you love your brother and therefore God is pleased with you. Rather, through Christ you have fellowship with God and this new birth undergirds, motivates and enables you to love your brother. The root of your salvation is you in Christ, but the fruit of your salvation is Christ in you. Prior to the new birth your so-called love for others is tainted by self-serving motives; on the whole, we love others for what we can get out of it. The new birth totally rearranges our motives. We no longer love to get. We love others because that is what our new nature, in Christ, does: it makes much of Christ.
Abiding in Christ: our Assurance of Victory
We shouldn’t mistake abiding in Christ for some abstract state of euphoric, spiritual nirvana that we must try to get into. Rather, it is an objective state of being which we are baptized into (1 Jn. 2:20), and this anointing produces a way of doing: believing obedience. God in the Flesh––Christ incarnate––is the only way to deal with your sin; both in the sense of justifying and progressively sanctifying.
This is why John spotlights assurance. Christ is the only way for your fallen nature to be reborn, and Christ is the only way to sanctify all your future good works. Does your sin weigh you down? Turn to God…He knows how filthy you are. You’re so sinful you won’t admit the half of it! When you turn to God, you’ll find He is greater than your dead heart. He specializes in removing hearts of stone, and replacing them with hearts of flesh. God can do so because Jesus discharged the debt of your sins and imputes His righteousness as yours. God no longer looks in wrath upon those in Christ, but in lavish love.
The simplicity here is striking: God commands you to believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another. Your assurance is rooted in the fact that Christ triumphed over Satan. All of our enemy’s schemes for our hurt have been undermined by Christ coming in the flesh. Our covenantal union with sin, the devil and the world and the death that came with that union, has been supplanted by our new covenant head—the incarnate Christ. He grants assurance of salvation and eternal life. You can have confidence toward God because you believe in His Son who defeated the devil.