Practicing Righteousness

1 John 2:28-3:10

The phrase “and now” indicates John is about to introduce a new section. Nine times John makes reference to “everyone.” The term is used to describe both those who continue sinning as Christians and those Christians who do not keep on sinning.

  • The Righteous Abide in Christ

The link between this section and the previous one is the phrase “abide in Him” or “continue in Him” (2:28a). “The tie with the preceding is seen in the carrying over the word ‘continue,’…in the introductory phrase, “kai nyn”, which is generally used to introduce a deduction based on conditions that have just been stated. The phrase ‘and now’ might be better translated by ‘since this is so’ or ‘this being the case’” (Boice 77).

John alludes to the duration of their abiding in Christ when he mentions Christ’s Return. Christ was to return. The ideal situation is “that when He appears” (2:28b) they will be found abiding in Christ. The knowledge of Christ’s impending return is a powerful motivation to live a righteous life. In light of the events of Christ’s return Peter asked, “what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11b,12).

The result of remaining in Christ is twofold with regard to the Second Coming of Christ. First, the righteous “may have confidence.” It could also be translated here “assurance” or “boldness.” Second, the righteous who abide will “not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” The idea is to shrink back, to lack confidence and be embarrassed at Christ’s return. If one abides in Christ they will have assurance at His return, if they do not abide in Him, they will have the opposite when He returns, and He will find them unprepared. The faithful will have no need to be afraid of the judgment to follow the Second Coming. Paul said that all Christians should “love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

  • The Righteous Know Christ is Righteous

Another motivation to practicing righteousness is the saint’s knowledge “that He is righteous” (2:29a). Christ was/is/will always be the Righteous One. The Greek word for “know” means “to know by experience.” Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). He will one day judge in righteousness (Acts 17:31). It is connected with the redeem work of Christ in 2:1. Those who have been saved know of Christ’s righteousness.

  • The Righteous are Born of God

As a result of knowing by experience that Jesus is righteous, they “know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (2:29b). In his Gospel John noted, “but as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

  • The Righteous are Loved as Children

The phrase “what manner” is an expression of great astonishment. It is from the Greek word “potapen”; it speaks of something that has come from another country – something exotic, something beyond what has previously been experienced” (Barton 62). It is nearly incomprehensible how God has been willing to save man by sacrificing his only Son (John 3:16). Christ died for sinful man while man was in sin and still an enemy of God (Rom. 5:6-8). Through our regeneration or new birth, we have been made “children of God.” John’s point is that we are to love God in return by practicing righteousness and to behave like His children.

God may know us as His children now that we have been born of God through a knowledge of the Righteous One, God’s Son. In contrast, “the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (3:1b). The world has no concept of being born of God or being His child. According to Peter the world thinks “it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:4)

  • The Righteous Will Be Like Him

John connects the points above by calling them “Beloved” or “loved ones,” since they are currently loved by God and also at present “children of God.” God has not made perfectly clear to our finite minds exactly what we are going to be like after Christ’s Return. Paul gives us a few hints in his discussion of the resurrection. There will be a bodily resurrection of the saints at the Second Coming which will be incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:42). It will be glorious not earthly (15:43a). This new body will not be subject to the same weaknesses (15:43b). Christ’s body went through a transformation at the Transfiguration and His resurrected body could pass through locked-up rooms even though Thomas to touch it. John’s point is since Christians will be like Him when He returns, they must practice righteousness now until He does come back.

  • The Righteous Purify Themselves

As a result of the Christian’s expectation of Christ’s return and our bodily resurrection like His, every child of God must purify “himself, just as He is pure” (3:3b). The reason for being righteous or staying pure is because Christ is now pure. Our anticipation of the future with Christ helps keep us away from the contaminating effects of sin now.

  • The Righteous’ Sins are Taken Away

Please note that the following mention of sin refers to a habitual, continuous practice of sin, not just the occasional misstep by one who is striving to practice righteousness.

Next, John gives a definition of sin: “sin is lawlessness” (4:4b). At its very essence, sin is a rebellion of the very laws of God. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden, God gave them one law to keep. They were not to eat of the forbidden tree. They sinned when they broke this law.

Man continued to be at odds with the law of God. Christ came and kept the law perfectly. He alone was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 1;9). He alone has the right or ability to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for sin. If sin is the breaking of God’s law, death is the penalty. Jesus is the solution. The sinless Son of God took away our sins. Since this is the case, Christians must not continue in sin but practice righteousness. If they continue in sin then Lord will say to them at His return, “never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23).

  • The Righteous Do Not Remain in Sin

John points out in verses six and seven the contrast of righteousness with sin. Christ is righteous and “whoever abides in Him does not sin” (3:6a). This is not a contradiction with chapter one. John has already pointed out the fact that Christians will sin from time to time. However, those who continue to remain in Christ cannot continue at the same time their practicing of sin. To remain free from sin and abide in Christ, one must continue to repent of their sins, keep on confessing their sins, and persist in praying for the forgiveness of their sins.

The consequences of continuing in sin is that they have “neither seen Him nor known Him” (3:6b). Christ continued to be sinless all His life. To live a life of on-going sin is to fail to really know the true nature of Christ or how to be like Him.

  • The Righteous Practice Righteousness

Although it would appear to be common sense that everyone “who practices righteousness is righteous” (3:7b), John still feels the necessity to warn his “little children, let no one deceive you” (3:7a). Only Christ is the standard of righteousness. The people of Christ’s day were deceived into thinking the Pharisees were the correct standard. Jesus warned them, “for I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

The reason everyone “who practices righteousness is righteous” (3:7b) is true is not because of man’s efforts in doing good and saving himself through his own righteousness, but because Christ “is righteous” (3:7c). Notice He is presently righteous, not just righteous in the past. His righteousness is eternal. Jesus always did and always does and always will do what is right. Therefore, every Christians must strive to practice righteousness, that is, follow the extreme standard set by Jesus and always do right.

  • The Righteous Do Not practice the Works of the Devil

The next contrast is the devil and the Son of God. Those who do what is right are identified with Christ and “he who sins is of the devil” (3:8a). Sin did not originate with God “for the devil has sinned from the beginning” (3:8b).

Although it is the mission of the Devil to introduce and promote sin and death, the very purpose of Christ coming in the past was “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (3:8c). He came to seek and save the lost. He went to the cross for our sins so then we “should live unto righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24).

  • The Righteous Have God’s Seed Abiding in Them

At this point, John restates a previously made point in the negative: “whoever has been born of God does not sin” (3:9a). The reason for this is that God’s “seed remains in him” (3:9b). Many Bible students identify this “seed” of God with the “Word of God.” If this is the case, Christians have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet. 1:23). An alternative identification of the “seed” is in connection with the regeneration. The seed of a father at conception determines from that point on some of the characteristics of the child. His genes will be a part of his child’s genetic make-up and perhaps determine eye color, height, build, etc. God’s nature is reflected in the regeneration of His children. He is righteous therefore His children should reflect this trait in their lives. Sin, on the other hand, is totally incompatible with the Divine nature which is sinless.

By way of emphasizing this point, John goes on to restate it in reverse order: “and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (3:9c). Again, this does not mean the born again can never commit a sin after having been baptized, but he who is born again does not continue to practice sin.

  • The Righteous Are Manifested as God’s Children

One final contrast is found in verse 10 between “the children of God and the children of the devil.” One can easily tell the difference between the two by whether or not they continue to practice righteousness. A true son will listen to and obey his father. To call God “Father” and continue to practice sin is to prove that the devil, not God, is their true progenitor. In his Gospel, John sheds some light on this. Jesus warned, “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

  • The Righteous Loves His Brother

John adds a second characteristic of those who are not children of God but children of the devil. Every saint “who does not love his brother” is not a child of God. John will continue to develop this point in the next paragraph as a separate assurance of one having eternal life.

Are you practicing righteousness?

– Daniel R. Vess

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