1 John

The family of God. 3:1-6


In this passage John continues to develop the twin themes: God is light and God is love. These themes are worked out in two separate groups which claim allegiance to God. One group, "the children of God", is lavished with the love of God. They purify themselves as God is pure. The other group is found in habitual rebellion against God, in lawlessness. The difference between these two groups is one of orientation; for one, an orientation toward Christ, for the other, an orientation toward rebellion.

The passage

v1-3. The opening remark, "How great", is an expression of amazement. God has acted with self-giving love to bring us into an intimate relationship with himself; he has made us his children. We do not deserve his love and so this makes his self-giving toward us even more wonderful. Three consequences flow from this truth:

i] "The world does not know us." The world does not know us in the same sense as it does not know God. The child of God is not recognized by secular society; we are ignored, even condemned.

ii] "What we will be has not yet been made known". Our standing in Christ enables us to deal with the present limitations that we must endure, cf. Deut.29:29. So, we live with our limited understanding, knowing that one day we will stand before the Father and see him as he is, and as he is, so shall we be. In that day we will know even as we are known.

iii] "Everyone who has this hope, purifies themselves." Holiness, or Christ likeness, is our hope, it is our destiny. In fact, as far as God is concerned, we are already perfect. So, we strive to purify ourselves, strive to be what we are. Our destiny is purity, perfection, so we strive to be pure. This is a natural response to our being in a relationship with the divine. "Everyone who has this hope" seeks to live in purity. God "is pure" and so it is only natural that His children should push themselves toward purity. It is often suggested that the example of Christ's life is what motivates us in this quest for perfection. His goodness, his purity, drives us toward purity. Yet, it is more likely that the motivating force is the same motivating power that stood with Christ in his life's journey. Only the Holy Spirit can sanctify and we need only cooperate with his work of renewal for us to be what we are.

v4-6. John's argument continues as follows: Everyone who sins finds themselves in rebellion against God, in lawless. Jesus came to deal with this state of loss. He, the perfect Son of God, took upon himself the punishment for our state of rebellion, Jn.1:29, 10:15. Thus, as a consequence, those who are in a relationship with Jesus press toward perfection rather than corruption. John is simply making the point that you can't be in fellowship with a sinless saviour and continue to push toward corruption.



John's words may seem to imply, on the surface at least, that a disciple of Christ should be sinless. Yet, this is not what he is saying. In 1:8 and 10 John lays the groundwork for his argument by stating that we cannot claim to be without sin. So, he is not speaking about personal perfection, because "sinning", "lawlessness", remains part of our daily experience. John is dealing with the issue of orientation, not personal purity. The issue here is that believers are assured of their standing in Christ because of their natural orientation toward the perfection that they already possess in Christ.

In the family of God

One of the greatest problems facing believers these days is a lack of assurance. Scratch a believer and you will find someone unsure of their salvation. The reason for this lack of assurance is often related to our clumsy attempts to confirm our salvation by means of our personal piety. We work at proving our standing with God on the basis of our goodness, but every day we fail miserably and so find our standing undermined.

Take note of John's point. God's love is beyond calculation, for not only does he call us his children, he makes us his children. The day is coming when we, the children of God, will not only know him, but will be like him. No matter how great our weakness or failings, they can't get in the way of God's gracious love for us. Jesus has taken away our sins and we are his forever.

This truth produces great confidence, it produces great assurance, and this assurance is supported by an amazing fact: a believer is orientated toward righteousness. This doesn't mean that a believer won't sin, in fact, sin will daily infect our lives. What it means is that a believer is attracted toward Christ-likeness. A person who has truly experienced the mercy of God will tend to be merciful - not perfectly merciful, but oriented toward mercy. A forgiven person forgives, strives to forgive. A person bathed in the purity of Jesus tries to express that purity in their lives.

So, our standing as God's children rests on his grace alone and this is evidenced by a desire to honor our Lord. Yes, we will constantly trip and fall, but then we will get up and dust ourselves off and see if we can't do better next time. In all this let us know for sure that God's love for us is undiminished.


1. Try to identify the doctrine of justification by faith in this passage.

2. Verse 6 implies a degree of freedom from sin. What type of freedom and what degree of freedom is John talking about?

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