Sin is many things. It is missing the mark (original meaning of the New Testament term). It is rebellion against the father’s love (Luke 15:11-32). It is alienation and separation from God (Ephesians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). It is ignorance of the things of God (Acts 17:30). It is failing to trust the goodness of God (last week’s lesson from Genesis 3:1-15). And it is transgressing God’s divinely instituted law. It is crossing the line.
First John was written by the Apostle John toward the end of the first century AD. The backdrop of the epistle seems to be a pre-Gnostic type of belief system. Robert Law understands the structure of the book to be that of three revolving themes that he calls the “tests of life.” Those three tests are belief, righteousness, and love. The latter two are evident in our text.
Sin and Breaking God’s Law
1 John 3:4-10
John just reminded the believers that, by virtue of the love of God, they had the privilege of being children of God. These believers did not know what they would be in the future, but they knew that one day they would be like Jesus. For the present they were striving to be pure as the Lord is pure (1 John 3:1-3). Part of that moral purity shows up in living in righteousness as opposed to breaking God’s commandments.
This section of Scripture follows a certain style of writing called chiasm (a pattern of intended and alternating parallels). Verses four and eight speak about sin. Verses five, six, seven, nine, and ten speak about Jesus and his people overcoming sin (A-B-B-A-B-B).
Verse four might contain the simplest and most theological description of sin in the Bible. The “is” is probably descriptive (not definitive) since the actual word for sin means “to miss the mark.” Sin is stepping over God’s law. Sin is walking right past God’s divinely instituted commands. Sin is caving into the devil’s (accuser’s) deception. Sin unifies us with our enemy, who has been sinning from before the dawn of time. At the end of the day, all sin is satanic.
Even though sin breaks God’s law, Jesus breaks the devil’s power over sin. Verse five is one of the incarnational statements about Jesus in the New Testament. He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). He came not to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Since in him is no sin, he can take away sin. John the Baptist announced him that way (John 1:27-29). He showed up to destroy (literally “loose”) the devil’s work.
Believers join Jesus in breaking the power of the devil over us by two things: identity and behavior. Christians are no longer defined by their sin but by their relationship to God as his children. Christians are defined by their new birth experience (born of God)—mentioned twice in this passage. Christians are defined by having God’s seed (literally, “sperm”) in them. Therefore they walk in righteousness and do not make a habit of sin.
Love and Compromising God’s Heart
1 John 3:11-18
We pick up the love theme for this paragraph from the last line of the previous paragraph. We are not God’s child if we do not love our brother and sister. Earlier John said, “This is the message we have heard from him . . . God is light” (1 John 1:5). This is the second message of the book (and the second time the command to love is given; see 1 John 2:7-11). Simply put it is this: “We should love one another.” When we do not love we compromise the heart of God.
Two biblical examples of love are given in the paragraph—one negative and one positive. In the negative one John references Cain (Genesis 4:1-16). We are told to avoid the “way of Cain” (Jude 11). He proved his connection with the evil one by murdering his brother Abel. Was Cain’s problem pride? Offering the wrong sacrifice? Not bringing his offering in faith? Jealousy? Or was it just the state of his heart? No matter—his actions proved he did not love, which meant that he remained in death. When we love, we pass from death into life—in this life (see John 5:24). When we love, we show that eternal life resides (abides) in us.
In the positive example John references Jesus. This is one of the famous 3:16’s of the Bible. Do you want to see the love of God displayed? Look to Jesus. He laid down (placed or put) his life for others. Jesus set the example for the church. We lay down our lives for others, and the next two verses (17, 18) show us how that is done.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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