Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
Whoever commits sin is of the devil.
Whoever is born of God does not commit sin. In fact, he cannot sin; for God’s seed remains in him.
What striking statements these are. Many may even question them, especially the notion that those who are born of God do not and cannot commit sin. Yet this is what the apostle John teaches by the inspiration of God earlier in this epistle (I John 3:8, 9).
Now, as John brings his epistle to a conclusion, he draws this to our attention once more. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not. John brings this to the foreground once more to impress this truth indelibly on our minds, so that we may always live according to it.
Do you understand what John means here?
And are you living as those who are born of God?
Born of God!
John emphasizes in his epistles that the members of the church are born of God and as such are God’s dear children.
We are not naturally the children of God. Naturally we are the children of the devil. This is the consequence of our original sin in Adam. As the devil’s children we are evil, corrupt, depraved, and foul. In fact, we are his spiritual likeness, the devil’s own image.
What a transformation takes place when we are born of God. The transformation is radical. It begins in the very center of our spiritual being, the heart. Earlier in this epistle John spoke of the seed of God that remains in the child of God (I John 3:9). This seed is the power of a new life that God implants in our hearts. Through the Word of God and the inner working of the Holy Spirit, this seed of new life influences and directs our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our whole life so that they are conformed to the will of God. The result is that we reflect God. We become His image. We are His dear children.
Those who are born of God do not sin.
There are those who teach perfectionism. They maintain that the child of God is able to attain perfection in this life, or near perfection. Is this what the apostle John would teach us here? Obviously not. This very epistle was written against an early form of Gnosticism. This was a dangerous heresy that convinced its followers that they had superior knowledge of God, a knowledge that led them to a sinless life. The apostle attacked this latter notion earlier in his epistle. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10).
When the apostle speaks of not sinning, he is speaking of not continuing in sin or living in sin. The emphasis is on continuous, ongoing action.
There are those who live in sin. Having fallen into a particular sin, they continue in it. They give themselves over to it and even cultivate it.
This is always done in the context of self-deception. How easy it is to deceive ourselves. Some deceive themselves into thinking that they can sin with impunity, i.e., sin and get away with it. God will not see. Or if He sees, He will do nothing about it. Still others deceive themselves by justifying their sin. Their circumstances, they say, are unique. There are extenuating circumstances that make their behavior acceptable. Certainly God will understand. Still others deceive themselves by minimizing the seriousness of their sin. They refuse to see the monstrous character of their sin. There is some self-deception involved in every instance of one who continues in a sin.
Those who are born of God do not continue in sin in this fashion.
Certainly the born again child of God does sin. Sometimes he sins horribly. This is due to the fact that the spiritual transformation that takes place through the new birth is not complete. For the present time the works of God’s grace are only begun. And so the child of God struggles with many sins. The Bible is full of examples. But because the child of God is born of God, he does not continue in sin. Rather he repents. He has a change of heart about his sin. With a grieving heart he confesses his sin to God and to all whom he has hurt in his sin. And he seeks forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Are there exceptions? We all know of David, who fell into sin with Bathsheba and through self- deception continued in that sin for some time. We also know of Solomon, who on account of his many heathen wives continued in the sin of idolatry for many years. These, however, are exceptions. And because of the seed of God that remained in them, they too turned from that sin in godly repentance.
Let no one who continues in his sin say that he is born of God. Let none who deceives himself about the character of sin call himself a child of God.
Whosoever is born of God does not continue in sin.
He that is born of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
The wicked one does not touch those born of God. But he tries. The wicked one is Satan. He is extremely wicked, and in his wickedness he seeks to touch the children of God. This means that he would lay his hands on them and snatch them away from Christ, our Savior. He would accomplish this by leading them into a life of sin. If the devil could lead us into a life of sin without repentance, he would have us. We would lose all that we have in Jesus Christ. And the devil is a master at presenting us with temptations to live such a life. Small wonder that he is called the wicked one.
But whosoever is born of God keeps himself so that the wicked one touches him not.
The meaning is that he who is born of God keeps himself in safety. The wicked one seeks to lay his hands upon the child of God, but because he is born of God he keeps himself in safety.
The born again Christian keeps himself safely from the clutches of the devil by fleeing daily to the cross. Certainly he cannot keep himself safe in his own power. Nor is there any other who can keep him safe from the wicked one, except Jesus Christ. In the cross there is safety. At the cross is to be found forgiveness for all and every sin into which we may fall. In the cross is the power to turn from sin in godly repentance and live a new life that is pleasing to the Lord. The born again Christian keeps himself in safety by fleeing to the cross and living under its protection. In Bible times one kept himself safe from the enemy by fleeing to a refuge. That refuge could be a cave in which to hide or a high tower in which one could defend himself. Similarly, the born again Christian keeps himself safe by taking refuge in the cross.
And how does one flee to the cross? He does so by seeking the Word, which proclaims the cross. He does so by partaking of the sacraments, which picture the cross. He does this by turning to the Lord in earnest prayer. And, yes, he does this by seeking the fellowship and communion of the saints. The power of the cross is found in the encouragement, instruction, and help of our fellow saints.
He that is born of God keeps himself from the clutches of the wicked one. And he does so because of the new life that has been implanted in his heart. The seed of God given at the new birth brings the child of God always and again to the cross.
This is how God preserves His beloved children from the devil.
What a glorious truth. God preserves His beloved people in safety. Try as he might, the wicked one will fail in his attempts to lay his hands on the children of God. Not one will be snatched away. God preserves each one of His children. But He does so by leading them to the cross to seek its safety.
John has set before us a glorious truth.
He has done so in order that we may reflect this truth in our daily lives.
Repeatedly the Scriptures set before us some glorious truth of salvation and then call us to live in harmony with that truth.
So also here!
We know that whosoever is born of God does not continue in sin. Implied is the obvious calling that we not live in sin but daily turn from our sin in true repentance to serve the living God.
We know that whosever is born of God keeps himself safely in Christ from the clutches of the wicked one. The calling we have is to flee to the cross daily that we might be safe.
This is a good time for each one to pause and examine himself.
Are you living in a particular sin?
In that connection, are there sins that you cherish and are cultivating? Are there sins that you are minimizing or justifying? God forbid! Our calling is to repent and turn from sin to the living God, as one who is born of God.
Also in that connection, are you keeping yourself safe in Jesus Christ? Do you eagerly seek the Word? Do you regularly partake of the sacraments? Do you spend time in prayer? And what of the fellowship of the saints? Do you live in close communion with those who are living uprightly? This is our calling before God, that we may keep ourselves in Jesus Christ.
Do not continue in sin, any sin.
Keep yourselves from the wicked one.
As those born of God.