Assurance of Salvation in the First Epistle of John

Assurance of Salvation in the First Epistle of John

“So That You May Know”

Assurance of Salvation in the First Epistle of John

Lesson 4: Born of God to Purity of Life (3:1-10)


In this section of his epistle the Apostle John describes the connection between righteous living and spiritual birth. True believers experience a unique blessing of being adopted into God’s family as his children (3:1). As a result they are called and empowered to live in righteousness and purity as they await the return of their righteous and pure Savior (3:2-3). John uses clear and often repetitive language in this section to contrast those who practice righteousness with those who practice lawlessness. In fact John teaches that our practice of righteousness or lawlessness indicates that we are either children of God or children of the devil. There can be no middle ground or third option, for Christ appeared specifically to destroy the works of the devil (3:8).


  1. An Amazing Love Bestowed (3:1-3)
  2. We are Children of God (v. 1)
  3. Our Complete Transformation is Forthcoming (v. 2)
  4. Hope and Purity (v. 3)
  5. A Divine Purity Practiced (2:29; 3:4-10)
  6. The Presence of Sin (3:4-6)
  7. Sin Is Lawlessness (v. 4)
  8. Christ Removes Sin (v. 5)
  9. Sin Contradicts Knowledge of God (v. 6)
  10. Righteousness and Sin: Two Masters (3:7-8)
  11. Righteousness Reflects the Righteous One (v. 7)
  12. Sin Reflects the Devil (v. 8)
  13. Righteousness and Sin: Two Fathers (3:9-10)
  14. God’s Seed Prevents Sin (v. 9)
  15. Children of God vs. Children of the Devil (v. 10)


1 John 2:29. Verse 29 serves here as the pivot point from John’s warning about false teachers to his discussion of pure living in 3:1-10. When Christ appears, he will judge and punish the wicked. Certainly included among the “wicked” are false teachers, who promoted false doctrine and its resulting sinful lifestyles. Thus, when John exhorts his readers to live in such a manner that they are not ashamed at Christ’s return, he is also warning them that false teachers and other wicked men will be ashamed at Christ’s return. John writes, “If you know that he is righteous,” meaning Jesus, “you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (2:29). John will explore this idea of being “born of God” more in 3:1-10, but verse 29 serves to connect the condemnation of false teachers (and by extension all the unrighteous) to the exhortation to pure and holy living based on being “born of God.”

1 John 3:1. John’s opening expression in this section is one of utter amazement at God’s saving work. The Greek word for “see” means to take special notice of something. John wants his readers to take special notice of the love that God the Father has given to his people. It’s an imperative, a command. John calls his readers to direct attention and reflection on the amazing love that God has bestowed on us. Some translations use the word “lavished.” God has lavished on us this amazing love.

What kind of love is it? It is love that leads the Father to call us “children of God,” and “so we are.” When we consider the destitute position of sinners before salvation, the love of God appears all the more amazing. Yet, more than simply showing love to sinners, scripture teaches that God adopts sinners into his family. He makes them his children. We are now “called” children of God. That is our name and also our position in God’s family. John adds the emphasis, “…and so we are.” There is no doubt in John’s mind that believers experience this amazing transfer of status from condemned sinner to forgiven child of God.

Our unique position as children of God causes nonbelievers to misunderstand us. John writes, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (3:1b). Those who are worldly fail to understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Jesus even told his disciples that the world “did not know who sent him” and that they persecuted him so they would also persecute his followers (Jn. 15:18-25). Followers of Jesus should not be surprised that nonbelievers reject the Gospel message and the holy lifestyle of believers. They do not know God so they will fail to comprehend his work in this world.

1 John 3:2.John echoes his claim that believers are children of God but then ties that reality to eschatology. He says, “…and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” While believers enjoy the present joy of being God’s children and knowing him as Father, we await the completion of God’s redemptive work and a fuller experience of his salvation. We are stuck in the “already but not yet.” When Christ returns we will finally be transformed completely into his image and likeness, knowing him and seeing him perfectly and fully. John is clear that Christ’s return (“when he appears”) is the key to this final transformation. When Christ returns, we will finally be like him, “because we shall see him as he is,” in perfect clarity.

1 John 3:3.Because believers long for the day when Christ will return, John says that they should prepare themselves accordingly. Everyone who “hopes in [Christ],” certainly meaning both his present saving work and his coming return, “purifies himself as he is pure.” Just as John stated that a true believer could not know God while simultaneously walking in darkness (1:6), so now he states that believers should be pure “as he is pure.” Christ’s purity and holinesscalls believers to the same standard of purity and holiness.

1 John 3:4.John here returns to the issue of sin. The Greek word translated “makes a practice”implies a continual practice of sin. In other words, it is a willful, habitual action. In the New Testament sin is an intentional breaking of God’s moral standard. John says that everyone who continually sins “also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” The idea here for lawlessness is more than just violating God’s law. It is a willful rejection and active disobedience against God’s design and standard. Thus, anyone who chooses to sin continually without repentance or change of lifestyle is choosing to disobey God’s design willfully and intentionally.

1 John 3:5-6.The continual sin that John finds so contrary to the Gospel stands in stark contrast to the person and work of Christ. “You know,” John says, “that [Jesus] appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (3:5). Christ took on flesh and was born into this world for the express purpose of taking away the sins of his people, to save them from the power, presence, and penalty of sin. In him “there is no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus told his disciples that if they would abide in him, they should keep his commandments (Jn. 14:15, 23; 15:10). John echoes that reality in verse 6—“No one who abide in [Jesus] keeps on sinning.” Notice again the emphasis on continual, willful choosing of sin over obedience. Said in other words, “…no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” As an eyewitness, John had actually seen Jesus, and he lived a righteous life because he encountered the righteous Christ. No one who has “seen” or “known” Christ will continually choose to sin because he has encountered and been changed by the holy and sinless Christ.

1 John 3:7-8.John begins verse 7 with a warning to his “little children” in the faith: “let no one deceive you.” The false teachers that he will address later in his letter did not teach the same standard of righteous living that the Gospel proclaims and demands. To clarify John tells his readers, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as [Jesus] is righteous” (3:7). A true believer is marked not by the performance of a righteous deed here and there, but by the habitual practice of righteousness, that which God requires.

In contrast to the one who practices righteousness, there is the one who “makes a practice of sinning” (3:7), the one who is “of the devil” according to John. Whether a man practices righteousness or sin, his actions reflect his master. One who makes a practice of deliberate sin demonstrates that he is subject to the devil (Jn. 8:44; Eph. 2:1-2), “for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (3:8). John most likely refers here to the devil’s sin against God before the Garden of Eden, a period about which we know very little. Still, John’s point is that continual disobedience to God’s design reflects not Christ, but the originator and spiritual father of sin.

Echoing his message from 3:5, John adds, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8). Jesus “appeared” in the flesh for the specific purpose of destroying the evil deeds of Satan through his atoning death on the cross (Jn. 12:31; Heb. 2:14). Thus, to make a practice of sinning is completely antithetical to the very purpose of Christ’s redemptive work in his incarnation, birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return.

1 John 3:9. This verse is an interesting and circular argument. It begins and ends with the concept of being “born of God.” In John’s mind being born of God is both the single past act of spiritual new birth and the ongoing effects of that new birth. When we are born of God, we become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) who are continually affected by that spiritual change. No one who is born of God continually makes a practice of sin “for God’s seed abides in him. God’s “seed” here refers to the regenerating agent that produces new birth and the new divine life that is implanted into new believers (cf. Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Because of that “seed” in his life, the believer in fact “cannot keep on sinning.” He is incapable of continuing to sin habitually and willfully.

1 John 3:10. Each person can be either a child of God or a child of the devil, meaning a nonbelievers, a slave to the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). He cannot be both. John summarizes this section of teaching with a clear statement: “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God.” He merely echoes that which he said back in 1:6—“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

Notice also that John adds a second person to those who are “not of God,” the one who does not “love his brother.” How does loving one’s brother relate to being a true believer? Simply put, God is love, and if we have experienced God’s love we will extend that same love to others. John writes later in 4:20-21—“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (Gal. 6:2; 1 Jn. 3:11). Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and love one another (Matt. 22:36-40). Paul likewise says that the love of God has been poured out into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). How can those who have God’s love in their hearts not love others? Truly, the absence of love for one’s brother indicates the absence of God’s love in his heart.