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Bible: What Does 1 John 3 Teach Us About Habitual Sin and Brotherly Love?

Updated on September 9, 2016

We Shall See Him As He Is


The Meaning of Hamartano

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The Believer's Sonship

Amazed (“Behold”), John contemplates the unfathomable love of the Father that confers the status of sonship on believers (v. 1a; cf. John 1:12).

Spiritual ignorance of the true God perfectly explains why the world system despises Christians (v. 1b).

Designating his readers as “Beloved” once more, the apostle first reiterates the teaching that they at present are children of God, but then admits that God has not yet revealed their future standing.

All he knows is that at the Rapture (“when He is revealed”), Christians will become conformed to the image of God’s Son.

As resurrected people, they will see Jesus in His glorified state and be like Him, apart from deity (v. 2; cf. Rom. 8:29).

By meditating upon the certainty that they will one day become holy, they will begin to live holier lives in the present (v. 3).

John states that sinners rebel against God’s holy standards, and therefore act lawlessly (v. 4).

He also asserts that his readers know that the Lord revealed Jesus, the impeccable One, to remove their sins from them (v. 5).

Those who consistently draw upon Christ’s power do not sin habitually; however, those who miss the mark habitually (hamartanon) do not have a saving relationship with Him (v. 6).



Cain and Abel


Addressing believers tenderly as little children, John expresses his desire that they permit no teacher to tell them otherwise.

Just as righteous people consistently perform good deeds as Jesus did, so people who sin “as a regular way of life” (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 444) belong to Satan, following the example he set from the time of his creation (vv. 7-8a).

Not only did God reveal Jesus to take away believers’ sins, but He also manifested His Son to “destroy the works of the devil” (v. 8b).

John avers that the regenerate nature (“His seed remains in him”) prevents the Christian from sinning habitually (“Whoever has been born of God . . . cannot sin”) [v. 9].

One can distinguish true believers from unregenerate “children of the devil” by a simple test: the unsaved neither perform good deeds as a habit of life (“practice righteousness”), nor do they follow Christ’s commandment to love others in God’s family (vv. 10-11; cf. John 13:34).

[What does John mean by “brother”?

Is it a Christian, a male sibling, or any human being?]

John names Cain as an example of one whose evil works set him apart as belonging to Satan; not only did Cain offer an unsatisfactory sacrifice, but he also hated Abel to the point of actually murdering him (v. 12; cf. Gen. 4:8).

The apostle then reminds them not to be surprised at the world’s hatred of them (v. 13).

Their love of other Christian brethren indicates that they possess new spiritual life from God (“we have passed from death to life”; see Jesus’ statement in John 5:24) [v. 14a].

People who hate others remain in the spiritual realm of separation from God, qualifying them as murderers who are devoid of God’s quality of life (vv. 14b-15; cf. Matt. 5:21ff).

[Some believers (Moses, David, and Paul) have literally murdered others (or arranged for their murder), but they also repented from their sin and trusted God and Christ to forgive them.]

Self-Sacrifice for Others


Two Inseparable Attitudes/Actions

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From Christ’s vicarious self-sacrifice, believers learn that they ought to imitate that example and love one another in the same way (v. 16).

However, John questions how God’s love can reside in a heart that refuses to part with material necessities to help a needy Christian (v. 17; cf. James 2: 15-16).

He exhorts his “little children” to support their words purporting love of brethren with deeds that truly demonstrate it (v. 18).

By exemplifying such behavior, they will prove to themselves that they belong to Christ and that they have no need to fear a condemning heart, because God knows their heart perfectly and does not condemn them (vv. 19-20).

John also mentions the opposite heart condition: one that does not condemn.

Individuals who are persuaded that they are “of the truth” trust implicitly in God, and confidently expect God to answer prayer requests because of their obedience to His commandments and their performance of faith-filled work (vv. 21-22).

The apostle links two specific actions/attitudes in one of those commandments: trust in the person of Christ and love for the brethren (v. 23).

Commandment keepers draw their strength from their intimate personal relationship with Christ; they know that the Lord provides spiritual sustenance for them through the Holy Spirit who also communicates God’s truth to them (v. 24; cf. Rom. 8: 9, 14, 16).

© 2014 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      Our total freedom from sin begins when we receive our resurrection bodies; only in heaven will we be separated from the very presence of sin forever.

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 4 years ago from among the called out ones of the ekklesia of Christ

      I agree, those who is truly born again do not habitually sin. They may fall into sin on occasion, but does not practice a lifestyle of sin. The one who is born again has had the old man die, the unregenerate spirit within. They are born in spirit anew, but will still wrestle with their flesh. Our flesh needs to be crucified on a daily basis. There is a choice either to live in the new spirit, or live from the flesh.

      Although we are new creation in Him, we still have the issue of the flesh. Our old man is crucified with Christ, but our flesh did not die. It is our duty daily to bring our bodies in to subjection to the Holy Spirit as Satan brings stumbling blocks our way on a daily basis; otherwise, there would be no battle to separate ourselves from the world.

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      John MacArthur wrote: "Christians sin because of the vestiges of sinful flesh, not because they have the same old active sin nature" (Faith Works, 116). The "flesh" is our falleness.

      Later, he added, "We are, in short, new creations--holy and redeemed but wrapped in graveclothes of unredeemed flesh" (117). 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that we are new creations in Christ; the old things passed away. All things have become new.

    • Bishop J L Hayes profile image

      Jerry Lynn Hayes Sr 4 years ago from Texas City, Texas

      What seems clear to me is that a one who is born again has the ability to sin but it goes against his/her nature to do so. While the alien sinner may do righteously but it goes against his/her nature to do so. This i9s seen, I think, in the condition of the human heart in the garden before the fall. Adam and Eve, could and did, sin. But that, I think, was against there nature at the time. Just my thoughts.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 4 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Question? - I always believed that verse 9 was talking about the two natures. That is it is impossible (cannot sin) for the new nature to sin, but the old nature can. That's where we have the battle. Wat are your thoughts?