Theological Reflections: 1st John 2:28 – 3:10

1 John 2:28–3:10 (CSB) — 28 So now, little children, remain in him so that when he appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know this as well: Everyone who does what is right has been born of him. 3:1 See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed so that he might take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Everyone who remains in him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen him or known him. 7 Children, let no one deceive you. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who commits sin is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s works. 9 Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister.

We have been pausing at key transitions throughout our study of John’s first epistle to reflect on the major theological themes of this letter.

Remain in him: one of the major theological themes of John’s first epistle is “remaining in Christ”, and this theme sets the stage for the main theme that we will address in a moment.

Beginning in 2:28, John issues four major imperatives calling on his beloved spiritual children to remain in Christ:

  1. He calls on those who have been born of God to “do what is right” (v.29)
  2. To “see the great love God has for us” (3:1)
  3. To “purify themselves in hope” (3:3)
  4. To “depart from sin” (3:6, 9)

The children of God actively live in righteousness, behold the greatness of God’s love, purify themselves in the hope of Christ’s return, and depart from the sin that wages war against their soul.  These are the key imperatives that John delivers to his spiritual children regarding abiding in Christ.

Let no one deceive you: another one of the major themes of John’s first epistle is “exposing deception”, and this theme takes center stage throughout this section.

The spiritual deception that John targets in this section is the confusion between the character and nature of the children of God versus the children of the devil.  Whereas John’s gnostic opponents are advocating for the idea that Christians actively remain in sin, John casts that idea as a spiritual impossibility because he asserts that Christians actively remain in Christ, and there is no darkness in Christ.

In order to understand some of the imperatives that John gives, it is necessary to understand the grammatical voice that John uses to write these commands:

Active — The grammatical voice that signifies that the subject is performing the verbal action or is in the state described by the verb.

Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press.

Participle — A word that has characteristics of both a verb and an adjective — a “verbal adjective” (cf. the word “shining”). As such, Greek and Latin participles have gender, number and case (the adjectival side), as well as tense and voice (the verbal side). Participles do not have mood, but can function in an imperative sense. In general, a participle’s tense is similar to a finite verb’s tense. The aspect of a participle cannot be simply equated with that of verbs.

Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press.

When John writes of the Christian’s inability to sin, he uses “verbal adjectives” (i.e. participles) and active verbs to describe entering into the kind of active sin-state elsewhere described by Paul in Romans 6:12, 16, 20 and so on into Romans 7 wherein the Christian is described as being in bondage to sin and growing in its nature.

John bases his theology on the Christian remaining in Christ (2:28) and the love of God (3:1).  From these two propositions, John makes the following propositions:

  1. Everyone who actively lives in sin also lives in lawlessness (3:4)
  2. There is no sin in Christ because he has taken away our sins (3:5)
  3. Those who remain in Christ cannot actively live in sin (3:6, 9)
  4. Those who actively live in sin do not know Christ (3:6, 8)
  5. Those who remain in Christ will actively live in righteousness (2:29; 3:7, 10)

These five propositions are the foundation of John’s theology regarding the nature and life of God’s children in Christ.

In reflecting on these theological principles I find two observations that I want to highlight:

First, these apostolic principles are the foundation of the Christian faith upon which the Christian Church is being built by Christ

Second, these apostolic principles run contrary to many of the creeds and systems of theology that dominate our day

In responding to the first observation, I think it is critical to note that these principles are the foundation upon which we should seek to build the community of Christ.  When we build the Church upon any other doctrine, we build the Church upon sinking sand and our work will perish (even if we are saved).  Therefore, we must seek to build the Church upon Christ’s solid rock and remain faithful to these truths.

In responding to the second observation, I believe – now more than ever – it is necessary for the Church to restore “the hands that hang down and the feeble knees” in this powerful gospel before it is too late.  We must not allow the pressures of this world to force the deceptions that run contrary to God’s word into the Church, and thereby leaven the body of Christ.  We must seek to remain faithful to this apostolic doctrine and not allow ourselves to be led astray by human doctrines that appeal to our carnal desires; we must close the door to those who say we can have our sin and enjoy Christ too.

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