There were certain Pharisees who once tried to justify themselves by saying, “We are Abraham’s descendants” (John 8:33 cf. 3:8). Jesus acknowledged the biological connection saying, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants” (John 8:37). However, He denied the spiritual connection replying, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God, Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father … You are of your father the devil” (John 8:39-41a, 44a). Their deeds more closely connected them with the devil than with Abraham.
The book of 1 John used this same type of language. It might be thought of as a spiritual paternity test. Do our deeds more closely identify us with God or the devil?
1. “Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).
This book was written to those who had obeyed the gospel plan of salvation (cf. 1 John 2:12). These words were designed to provide evidence that one could spiritually be identified with God.
The one spiritually identified with Him lives a life which practices righteousness. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:6-7). “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
2. “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
The one spiritually identified with Him does not sin. The literal language is “does not keep on sinning,” that is—live a life of sin.
Why not? The answer is that “His seed,” that is the word of God (cf. Luke 8:11) lit. “Keeps on remaining in him.” This one has let God’s word find a home in his heart (cf. Psalm 119:11; Colossians 3:16a).
The one spiritually identified with Him cannot sin. That is, cannot live a life of sin. The wording “cannot” sometimes denotes deliberate will or purpose (Luke 14:20; Mark 6:5 cf. Matthew 13:58). The reference has nothing to do with it being impossible to sin, even once. The reference is to the restraint the child of God has so long as God’s word is at home in his heart (cf. 1 John 5:18). He will not live a life of sin. He will not even desire such a life.
3. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
The one spiritually identified with Him exhibits love. “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now” (1 John 2:9). “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was the wicked one and murdered his brother … whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:11-12a, 15). “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar … And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). Bill Lockwood once pointed out “The grand mistake of the Baptist pulpiteers is the utilization of passages (such as 1 John 4:7) that refer to the continual obedience of the child of God trying to make them germane to the process of conversion of the non-Christian.”
4. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 Jn. 5:1).
The one spiritually identified with Him believes (lit. “continues to believe”) that Jesus is the Christ. He accepts Jesus as the Christ. Jesus said, “he who receives me receives Him who sent me” (John 13:20). One cannot be identified with Him, and reject His Messiah.
John is not saying that mere intellectual acceptance of Jesus as the Christ is enough. He has already set forth the need for obedience (1 John 1:6-7; 2:3-4; 3:24a), and love (1 John 4:7-8 cf. 2:10-11), and confession (1 John 1:9; 4:15).
5. “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
The one spiritually identified with Him overcomes the world. The reference is to living the Christian life despite living in an unfriendly environment.
There are many things to overcome in this life—evil (Romans 12:21), the evil one (1 John 2:13), false teachers (1 John 4:4), and the tribulations of life (John 16:33). The victory is to those who overcome (Revelation 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21). We need strong faith. This is the key to overcoming the trials and temptations of the world.
6. “Whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself” (1 John 5:18).
The one spiritually identified with Him does not literally—“keep on sinning”. That is, he does not live a life of sin. Instead, he keeps or guards himself. “Pure and undefiled religion before God involves ‘keep(ing) oneself unspotted from the world’” (James 1:27). “For this is the will of God … that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor … For God did not call us to uncleanness but in holiness. Therefore, he who rejects this does not reject man, but God …” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
Can people see that you are the offspring of God?