Verse 28 of Chapter 2 stands as a short paragraph by itself, and the
second chapter would more fittingly have ended with it. Verse 29 begins
another paragraph which extends to verse 3 of chapter 3. At this point
someone might well have desired to enquire-But who are the children of
God, and how exactly may they be distinguished from those who are not?
The answer given here is that those who are born of God are the
children of God, and that they may be distinguished by the doing of
righteousness. The doing is something habitual and characteristic. It
is not that they do righteousness off and on, now and again; but that
they practise it as the habit of their lives. They are far from being
perfect in it-only One was that. Still, as born of God they necessarily
have His nature. He is righteous: we know that right well. Then of
necessity those born of Him are characterized by righteousness: it
could not be otherwise. Therefore when we see anyone really practising
righteousness we are safe in assuming that such an one is a true child
The practice of righteousness is a very big matter, going far beyond
the paying of one-hundred pence in the pound. We have to begin with God
and render to Him that which is His due, and then consider rendering to
all others that which is their due. No unconverted man can be said to
practise righteousness for such have never begun at the beginning. They
do not practise what is right in regard to God.
We know God. He is righteous. Here is someone who practises
righteousness. We are safe in regarding that one as born of God. He
belongs to the Divine family. But then what amazing love this is! And
it is bestowed upon us by the Father Himself!
The word that John uses here is "children" rather than "sons." It is
a more intimate term. Angelic beings are spoken of in Scripture as
"sons of God," and all things are of Him as creatures of His hand; but
to be His children we must be "born of Him." This is something more
profound as well as more intimate, and we may well marvel at the manner
of the Father's love which has bestowed upon us such grace as this.
Into this new relation we have been brought by God's own act, wrought
within us by the power of the Holy Ghost. It might have pleased Him,
while saving us, to have brought us into a relation with Himself far
inferior to this. But no; such has been the manner of His love.
But further, just as this act of His in begetting us has
connected us with Him in this new relationship, so also it has
disconnected us from
the world, and that in a most fundamental way. When Christ was here the
world knew and understood neither Him nor His Father. That was because
in origin and character He was totally opposite to them. He said to
them, "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am
not of this world." And again, when they claimed that God was their
Father He said, "If God were your Father ye would love Me" (John 8: 23,
42). The trouble with them was that they had not the nature which would
enable them to know or understand Christ. Now we, thank God, have the
nature which knows Him and loves Him; but for that very reason we also
are not known and understood by the world. It must be so in the very
nature of things.
The children's place is ours NOW. The love of the Father, which is
proper to the relationship, is ours NOW. Yet there is that for which we
wait. What we shall be has not yet appeared; but it is going to appear
when He appears. When He is manifested in His glory, we shall not only
be with Him but like Him, for we are going to see Him as He is. The
world will see Him in that day, arrayed in His majesty and His might.
They will see Him in His official glories. We shall see Him in His more
intimate personal glories. The kings of this world are seen by the
populace in official trappings on state occasions: but by members of
the royal families they are seen in private
as they are.
Now we must be like Him to see Him as He is. Only as bearing the
image of the Heavenly One can we tread the heavenly courts and gaze
upon Him in this intimate way. We are actually going to be LIKE HIM.
The children of God today are nothing much to look at. They are often a
very poor and despised people. In the autumn we may see a number of
dull, uninteresting caterpillars crawling upon the nettles. What they
are going to be does not yet appear. Wait till next summer, when they
will emerge as gorgeous butterflies! Even so we shall emerge in His
likeness in the day of His manifestation. We shall be seen then in the
estate which is proper to the children of God.
Such then is our hope in Christ. As we contemplate it we must surely
be conscious of its elevating and purifying power. If this is our high
and holy destiny we cannot possibly be content to accept the
defilements of this world, whether they are within or without us. We
must purify ourselves with such a hope in view. We might rest content
with the defilement if these things were mere notions or theories to
us, but not if they are a real hope. Burning as a hope within our
hearts, we must purify ourselves, and this process will continue as
long as we are here, for the standard of purity is "even as He is
pure." We may make an application of Mark 9: 3, which speaks of His
raiment as "exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white
them." No fuller on earth can white us to that standard: we shall only
reach it when like Him in glory.
Passing from verse 3 to verse 4 of our chapter, we are conscious of
a very abrupt change. We have just been told how we may discern the
true children of God by their practice of righteousness. We are now to
see the complete contrast that exists between the children of God and
the children of the devil. There are two distinct seeds in the earth
from a moral and spiritual standpoint, diametrically opposed the one to
the other. They cannot be confused or mixed, though an individual may
be transferred from one to the other by an act of God, by being
begotten of Him.
But first of all the true nature of sin must be exposed. One of the
few blemishes of our excellent Authorized Version occurs in verse 4,
where the word for lawlessness is translated as "transgression of the
law." "Every one that practises sin practises also lawlessness; and sin
is lawlessness." (New Trans.). If sin really had been the transgression
of the law, then there would have been no sin committed in the world
between Adam and Moses, as Romans 5: 13, 14 says. But sin is something
deeper than that, for lawlessness is the denial and repudiation of all
law, and not merely the breaking of it when given. If the planets that
encircle our sun were suddenly to repudiate all law, the solar system
would be destroyed. Lawlessness amongst the intelligent creatures of
God's hand is equally deadly, and destructive of His moral order and
Sin therefore is utterly abhorrent to God, and cannot be permitted
to continue for ever. Hence Christ has been manifested-One in whom sin
was entirely absent-that He might remove it. Verse 5 only goes as far
as this, that He was manifested to remove our sins, the sins of the
children of God. Our sins are only a part of the whole, but they are
the part in question here, for the point is that the children of God
have been brought out of the lawlessness that once marked them and into
The One in whom is no sin has been manifested, and as a result He
has taken away our sins, so that we may abide in Him and sin not. Verse
6 presents the contrast from an abstract point of view and must be read
in connection with verse 4, so that "sinneth" has the special force of
"practiseth lawlessness." The children of God are characterized by
this: they abide in Him who has been manifested to take away our
lawlessnesses, consequently as under His control they do not practise
lawlessness. On the contrary, the one who does practise lawlessness has
not seen nor known this blessed One.
The righteousness of verse 7 is in contrast with the lawlessness of
verse 6. We are not to be deceived upon this point for the tree is
known by its fruit. We may reason of course from the tree to its fruit,
and say that he that is righteous doeth righteousness. Here however we
reason from the fruit back to the tree, for John declares that he who
practises righteousness is righteous, according to the righteousness of
the One by whom he has been begotten. This is apparent if we connect
the verse with 1 John 2: 29.
On the other hand, he who practises lawlessness is not of God at
all. He is of the devil since he is displaying the exact character of
the source from whence he springs. From the beginning the devil sins.
He was committed to lawlessness from the outset; and the Son of God has
been manifested that He might destroy his works. What the devil has
done, leading men into lawlessness, the Son of God came to undo.
Verse 9 emphasizes what has just been said in verses 6 and 7,
putting it in a still more emphatic way. No one that has been begotten
of God practises lawlessness, and this for a very fundamental reason.
The Divine seed remains in him, and hence as begotten of God he cannot
sin. Here are dogmatic statements of great strength. No qualifying
statements are allowed to enter and modify their positive force.
Consequently they have presented a great deal of difficulty to a great
Two things help to clear up these difficulties. The first is a
simple understanding of the force of abstract statements. When we speak
abstractly we purposely eliminate in our minds and utterances all
qualifying considerations, in order that we may more clearly set forth
the essential nature of the thing of which we speak. To take the
simplest of illustrations: we say, cork floats, alcohol intoxicates,
fire burns. Thereby we state the essential character or nature of these
things, without committing ourselves to the consideration of what may
look like contradictions in practice. The old lady in yonder cottage,
for instance, might say that on this cold and windy day she only wished
that her fire
did burn. We all know that this unfortunate
abnormality, occurring at certain times, does not alter the truth of
the abstract statement-fire burns.
The second thing is that we read this passage in the light of verse
4, which acts as a preface to it. There is no mention of sin from 1
John 2: 12 down to 1 John 3: 4. But between verse 4 and verse 9 we have
the word in different forms about ten times; and at the outset the
exact meaning attaching to the word is given to us. The word is defined
for us; hence the mistranslation of the definition is particularly
unfortunate. The point all through is the practice of righteousness,
which expresses itself in obedience, in contrast with the practice of
lawlessness, which expresses itself in disobedience.
In verse 9 the one begotten of God is viewed in his abstract
character. If viewed apart from his abstract character he is found with
sin in him and with sins that have on occasion to be confessed and
forgiven, according to earlier statements in this very epistle (1 John
1: 8.-2: 1). Viewed abstractly he does not practise lawlessness, indeed
cannot be lawless just because he is begotten of God.
What a wonderful-perfectly wonderful-statement this is! Such is our
nature as begotten of God. At present the fact is often obscured by
reason of the flesh still being in us, and our giving place to it. But
when we are with Him and like Him, seeing Him as He is, the flesh will
have been eliminated for ever. There will be no qualification then. The
fact will be
absolute, and not only abstract. When we are
glorified with Christ it will not only be that we do not sin but that
absolutely we cannot sin. We can no more sin than He.
If any desire further help on this matter they may get it by
contrasting our passage with Romans 8: 7, 8. There the flesh is viewed
in its abstract nature, and it is the precise opposite of what we have
here. It is essentially lawless, and completely opposed to God and His
In verse 10 another feature that characterizes the true children of
God is brought forward. They not only practise righteousness but they
also are marked by love. Other scriptures show us that love must
characterize our dealings with the world. Here we are told that we
display it towards our brethren; that is, all others who with ourselves
are begotten of God. So those who have their origin of God and those
who have their origin of the devil are sharply differentiated by those
two things. The one have righteousness and love: the other have neither.
Love and righteousness are closely connected yet distinct. Love is
entirely a matter of nature. "God is love," we read, while we do not
read that God is righteousness. Love is what
He is in Himself. Righteousness expresses
His relation to
all outside Himself. We are begotten of Him: therefore we display His
nature on the one hand, and act as He acts on the other.
In the child of God love must necessarily flow out to all others who
are His children. It is the love of the Divine family. The instruction
that we should love one another was not something new, rather it had
been given from the beginning. From the outset love had been enjoined.
See how fully the Lord enforced it in John 13: 34, 35.
In just the same way the hatred which marks the world-those who find
their origin in the devil and his lie-is a very ancient thing. It also
goes back to the beginning, the outset of the devil's activities
amongst men. No sooner was there a man begotten in sin, and in that way
morally the seed of the devil, than the feature was seen in him. Cain
was that man, and the hatred that belongs to the seed of the devil came
out in full force. He slew his brother. There was no love there but
hatred. And why? Because there was no righteousness but lawlessness.
So the illustration is complete. Cain the seed of the devil, was a
lawless man who as a result hated and slew his brother. As begotten of
God we have
love as our proper nature, and are left here to practise also
righteousness. Loving our brother and practising righteousness, we make it plainly manifest that we are children of God.
May that fact be more and more plainly manifest in all of us.
Each created thing reproduces itself "after his kind." This fact is
intimated ten times over in Genesis 1. In our chapter we find that the
same law holds good in spiritual things. Those who are "begotten of
God" are characterized by love and righteousness. Those who are
"children of the devil" are characterized by hatred and lawlessness,
just because they are after his kind. The two seeds are clearly
manifest in this: and they are wholly opposed the one to the other.
There is nothing surprising therefore if the believer is confronted
by the hatred of this world. The "world" here is not the
world-system-that cannot hate-but the people who are dominated by the
world-system. The child of God does not hate them. How could he, when
it is his very nature to love? The world hates him, for the same reason
as he who does evil hates the light, for the same reason as Cain hated
Abel. It must be confessed as a sad fact that very often we do marvel
when we are hated, but it is very foolish of us. It is rather that
which we should expect in the very nature of things.
The Christian does not hate, he loves. But in verse 14 it does not
say by way of contrast that we love the world. If it did we should be
in danger of a collision with verse 15 of the previous chapter. It is
true that we should be characterized by love towards men generally, as
shown in Romans 13: 8-10, but what is said here is that we love the
brethren; that is, all others who have been begotten of God. Love is
the very life of the family of God.
How do we pass from death unto life? One answer to that question is
given to us by John 5: 24. It is by hearing Christ's word and believing
on Him that sent Him. In the passage before us the answer evidently is,
by being begotten of God-the context makes this clear. Putting the two
scriptures together, we get, what we may call, our side of the matter
on the one hand, and God's side of the matter on the other. To decide
precisely how the two sides, the Divine and the human, combine is of
course beyond us. The exact mode in which the Divine and the human are
united must ever be beyond us, whether in Christ Himself, or in Holy
Scripture, or anywhere else.
But the fact remains that we have passed from death unto life, and
the proof of it is that we love the brethren, for love is practically
the very life of the family even as it is of the Father Himself. Here
the Apostle John corroborates the sweeping statements made about love
by the Apostle Paul in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13. He tells
us that if any of us do not love our brother we abide in death, no
matter what we may seem to be. Paul tells us that, no matter what we
may seem to have, if we have not love we are nothing-we simply do not
count at all in God's reckoning.
Verse 15 puts the case even more strongly. The fact is that in this
matter we cannot be neutral. If we do not love our brother we hate him;
and he who hates is potentially a murderer. Cain was an actual
murderer, but in Matthew 5: 21, 22 the Lord Jesus lays the emphasis not
on the act but on the anger and hatred which prompted the act, and so
does our scripture here. He who is possessed with a spirit of hatred is
possessed with the spirit of murder, and no such person can be
possessed of eternal life. As we have seen, eternal life is ours as
continuing or abiding "in the Son and in the Father" (1 John 2: 24,
25). Abiding in Him, eternal life abides in us, and the essential
nature of that life is love.
But though love is the simple breathing forth of the life that we
possess, we none of us have it as though we were each a little
self-sufficient fountain of it. The subjective display of love in us
can never be disconnected from the objective display of it in God.
Hence we ever need to look outside ourselves if we would really
perceive love, as love really is in itself. "Hereby we have known love,
because He has laid down His life for us" (New Trans.). This was the
supreme display of the real thing.
We have to ponder very deeply upon all the virtue and excellence and
glory that is compressed into the "HE," and then contemplate the sin
and wretchedness and misery that characterized the "us," if we desire
in any adequate way to perceive the love. It is very important that we
should do so, for only then can we possibly face the obligation which
as a consequence is laid upon us. He manifested the love by laying down
His life for us. As the fruit thereof we live in His life which is a
life of love. A beautiful circuit is completed. He loved. He laid down
His life for us. We live of His life. We love.
Now for the obligation. "We ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren." Love with us ought to go as far as that. Priscilla and
Aquila went as far as that for Paul, since they "laid down their own
necks" for his life. Would they have done so for some very lowly and
utterly undistinguished saint, we wonder? Very likely they would, for
they are placed at the very head of the long list of Christian worthies
who are saluted in Romans 16. At any rate that is the length to which
love of a divine sort goes.
If love goes to that length, it obviously will go to any point that
falls short of it. There are many ways in which the child of God may
lay down his or her life for the brethren which do not involve dying,
or even facing actual death. The household of Stephanus, for
instance-of whom we read in 1 Corinthians 16: 15-"addicted themselves
to the ministry of the saints," or "devoted themselves to the saints
for service." If they did not lay
down, they at least laid
out their lives for the brethren. They were serving Christ in His members, and displaying the love in very practical fashion.
The love of God was dwelling in them, and it is to dwell in us, as
verse 17 shows. If it does it must necessarily find an outlet towards
others who are children of God. God has no needs for us to meet. The
cattle upon a thousand hills are His, if He needed them. It is the
children of God who are afflicted and who have need in this world. The
practical way of showing love to God is to care for His children, as we
see them have need. If we have this world's substance, and yet we
refuse compassion to our brother in need in order to eat our morsel
alone, it is very certain that the love of God is not abiding in us.
At this point we may remark that one word which is very
characteristic of this epistle has already been translated by four
different words in English:-abide, continue, dwell, remain. The four
words used are no doubt quite suitable and appropriate in their place,
but it is as well that we should know this fact, for it helps us to
preserve in our minds the continuity of the Apostle's thought. Dealing,
as he does, with what is fundamental and essential in the Divine life
and nature, he necessarily has to speak of things that
Verse 18 is not addressed to the babes, but to all the children of
God irrespective of their spiritual growth. We all have to remember
that love is not mere sentiment, not a matter of endearing words
uttered by the tongue. It is a matter of action and of reality. The
love that we have perceived, according to verse 16, did not exist in
mere words but came out in an act of supreme virtue. The love of God
dwelt in Him and He laid down His life for us. If the love of God
dwells in us, we shall express our love towards our brother in action
and work, rather than in word alone.
If we love thus
IN truth it will be manifest that we are
OF the truth. We
are, so to speak, begotten of the truth, and hence truth expresses
itself in our actions; and not only will other people be assured that
we are of the truth, but we shall gain assurance for our own hearts as
before God. A man may buy what is stated to be an apple tree of a
certain variety, and to assure him he is handed a certificate signed by
the horticulturist who raised the tree. That is good, but a mistake is
possible. When in due season he picks from that tree apples of just
that variety, he has as perfect an assurance as it is possible to have.
When the love and the truth of God bear their fruit in the life and in
deed, our hearts may well be assured.
"Alas! I am none too positive. This desirable fruit has often been
lacking in me." That is what many of us would have to say. That is just
what the Apostle anticipates in the next verse. Considering these
things, our hearts condemn us. How solemn then is the fact that "God is
greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." Solemn, and yet very
blessed. For see how this great fact worked in the heart of Simon
Peter, as recorded in John 21: 17.
Peter who had so confidently boasted of his love to the Lord, had
signally failed to show it in deed. He had instead thrice denied Him
with oaths and curses. The Lord now thrice questions him on the point,
letting down a probe into his conscience. Instead of having assurance,
Peter's heart condemned him, though he knew that at bottom he
the Lord. If Peter had some sense of his failure the Lord who knew all
things saw the depth of it as Peter did not. And yet by that very fact
He also knew that, in spite of the failure, genuine love was there. So
Peter said, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love
Thee." He was glad to cast himself upon the fact that "God is greater
than our hearts, and knoweth all things." So may we be, when in a like
On the other hand there are times-God be thanked-when our heart does
not condemn us; times when the life and love and truth of God in our
souls has been in vigour, expressing themselves in practice. Then it is
that we have confidence and boldness before God. We have liberty in His
presence. We can make request of Him with the assurance of being
answered, and receiving in due season that which we have desired.
The word "whatsoever" in verse 22 presents us with a blank cheque,
leaving us to fill it in. But the "we," who are presented with it, are
limited by what follows as well as by what precedes. They are those
whose heart does not condemn them, who keep His commandment, and do the
things that are pleasing in His sight. Such individuals can be
entrusted with the blank cheque. They are Christians who love in action
and not merely in word, they are marked by that obedience which is so
pleasing to God. He who is characterized by love and obedience will
have his thoughts and desires brought into harmony with God's, so that
he will ask according to His will, and consequently receive the things
that he desires.
We keep His commandments; but there is one commandment which stands
out in a very special way, and which divides into two heads-faith and
love. We are to believe on the Name of Jesus Christ, God's Son, and
then love one another as He commanded His disciples; notably in John
13: 34, 35, for instance. We recognize here the two things that are so
often mentioned together in the epistles. Paul had not been to Colosse,
but he gave thanks to God on their behalf having "heard of your faith
in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints"
(Colossians 1: 4). These two familiar things are proof of true
conversion, evidence of a genuine work of God.
What perhaps is not so familiar to us is both of them being treated
as a commandment. It is worthy of careful note that of all the apostles
John is the one to write a great deal to Christians about the
to us. He wrote when the other apostles had gone, and when the tendency
to turn grace into license was becoming pronounced; hence this
particular emphasis, we believe. They are not commandments of a legal
sort, to be carried out in order that we may establish our
righteousness in the presence of God, but they are commandments
nevertheless. What John declares to us in this epistle is in order that
we may be introduced into fellowship, or communion, with God. If we
enter into the communion, we soon discover the commandments, and there
is nothing incompatible between them. They are wholly in agreement, for
only in obedience to the commandments is the communion enjoyed and
This is emphasized in verse 24, where we find that it is the saint
walking in obedience that abides in Him. At the end of the previous
chapter the children-all the family of God-were exhorted to abide in
Him, for it is the way of proper Christian life and fruitfulness. Here
we find that the abiding is contingent upon obedience. The two things
go together, acting and reacting upon each other. He who abides obeys,
but equally true it is, that he who obeys abides.
But obedience leads to His abiding in us, as well as our abiding in
Him. If we abide in Him we necessarily draw from Him all the fresh
springs of our spiritual life, and as our practical life is thus drawn
from His, it is His life which comes into display in us, and He is seen
to be abiding in us. Here, we believe John sets forth in
principle what Paul states as his own
experience in Galatians 2: 20. It was as he "lived by the faith of the Son of God" that he could say, "Christ liveth in me."
By the Spirit, who has been given to us, we know that Christ abides
in us. The Spirit is the energy of the new life that we have in Christ,
and other scriptures show us that He is "the Spirit of Christ." Other
people may know that Christ abides in us by observing something at
least of His character being displayed by us. We know it by His Spirit
having been given to us.
The Holy Spirit has been alluded to in 1 John 2, as the Unction or
Anointing, thus giving even to the little children a capacity which
enables them to know the truth; but now we are thinking of Him as the
Spirit by whom Christ abides in us so that we may manifest Him here. He
was also dwelling here in order that He might give utterance to the
Word of God. This He did at the beginning through the apostles and
prophets whom He inspired. He is the power by whom the Word of God is
given, as well as the power by whom it is
This fact furnished the "antichrists" with a point of attack. These earliest "antichrists" were known as
gnostics, a word which signified, the
knowing ones. They
too would speak by power that was obviously of a spirit. They claimed
that they knew, and set up their ideas in opposition to that which had
been revealed through the apostles. It was because of this that the
Apostle digresses a little from his main theme in the opening verses of
The digression was important in that day, and it is no less important in ours, as we shall see.