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Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10


Well, 1 John, chapter 3. This past week I was made aware of a professor of history at Barnard College. Her name is Nara Milanich, and she wrote a book called Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father. In that book, she talks about how paternity through the ages has been determined before the more modern onset of science; there was a whole lot of hocus-pocus in trying to determine paternity. But she describes then how science began to be used to determine paternity. Dave Ruse writes of her book:

In the early 1940's, famed entertainer and womanizer Charlie Chaplin, was taken to court in a paternity case brought by his former protégé, Joan Barry. Barry was 23, Chaplin 54, and she alleged that he was the father of her newborn baby Carol Ann. The court case, deliriously covered in the papers, featured the first high profile use of blood group testing in a paternity suit. And when the results came in, they conclusively showed that Chaplin could not be the father of Carol Ann. But the jury, composed of eleven women and one man, found that Chaplin was indeed Carolyn's Father, if not biologically, then by the merit of his close relationship with her mother, and his infamous history of marrying and quickly discarding much younger women. California law was changed in 1953, to say that if a paternity test showed that a man was not the father, then the matter was resolved. (Other states of course, followed suit, but goes on to say.) DNA paternity tests, which went mainstream in the 1990's, have taken all of the guesswork out of determining the identity of the biological father. They are 99.99% accurate.

Now, as I read about that, I was reminded of the fact that in God's good Providence, there has always been a perfectly accurate test to determine our spiritual paternity, our spiritual ancestry. That's what we're discovering in 1 John, chapter 3. John gives us, in this letter, the tests of eternal life. Let me remind you that what we're studying in 1 John for the most part is not the cause of our salvation, but the evidence of our salvation. These are tests of eternal life; do I have eternal life? We're studying "The Test of Obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word." It begins in chapter 2, verse 28, runs through chapter 3, verse 10

So far, we've discovered that "Obedience Shows our Real Birth, Obedience Also Shows Our Real Relation to Jesus Christ," and we're in the middle of a section that begins in chapter 3, verse 7, and runs through verse 10, which shows us that "Obedience Is the Evidence That Shows Our Real Father." It answers the question, "Am I still a child of the devil?" as I was born into this world, and as you were born into this world? Or have I experienced the new birth, and am I now "A Child of God?" That's the message of these verses. Let's read them again together, 1 John 3, verses 7 through 10.

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

Now as I pointed out to you last week, the basic message of those verses is this, the surest test of our spiritual ancestry is our habitual conduct. A child of the devil practices sin; a child of God practices righteousness. Again, that's not the cause of our salvation; it is the evidence of it. These verses give us three crucial insights into our spiritual ancestry. We looked at a couple of them last time, let me just remind you.

First of all, we noted "A Lethal Deception about our Spiritual Ancestry." Verse 7 begins, "Little children, make sure no one deceives you." John warned the believers then; he warns us today that Satan is all about trying to deceive people, listen carefully, within the church, attached to the church, that you can be righteous without practicing righteousness. John says, "Beware, don't let anybody deceive you," it's simply not true.

A second insight that we learned here is "The Biblical Correction about our Spiritual Ancestry." He simply implies the deception, but he goes on to correct that deception explicitly. Again, the surest test of our spiritual paternity, who our father is, is our habitual conduct. John makes that point in three different ways. We looked at two of the ways that he does this last time, let me just remind you of them.

First of all, he makes this biblical correction by making this point, "The One Practicing Righteousness Is Righteous." Look at the second half of verse 7, "…the one who (is practicing, who is doing righteousness, that one) is righteous."

The second way he makes this point is in verse 8, "The One Practicing Sin Is Satanic." "The one who practices sin (Verse 8 said.) is of the devil." Now, why would he say that? Why would he say if your life is characterized by sin, you're of the devil? Well, he gives two reasons in verse 8. First of all, because continually sinning is consistent with Satan's nature and work. Verse 8 says, "the one who practices sin is of the devil; for (Because here's why I say that.) the devil has sinned from the beginning." From his fall, he just keeps on sinning. And of course, it makes sense that if that's the pattern of your life, you're not connected to God, but you're connected to God's archenemy, Satan, you are of the devil.

It also makes sense, secondly, "Because sin is diametrically opposed to Christ's nature and work." While it's consistent with Satan, it stands opposed to Jesus Christ because He came to deal with sin. Look at verse 8, "…The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil." And so, clearly the one practicing sin is satanic.

Now today, we begin by considering a third way that John makes this same basic point. Not only is it true that the one practicing righteousness is righteous, and the one practicing sin is satanic, but a third way we can say that is this, "The One Having Been Born of God Is Not Practicing–Cannot Practice Sin," the one having been born of God is not practicing, cannot practice, sin. That's the message of verse 9. Look at what John writes, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

Now, let me just start out by admitting to you that verses 9 and 10 of this third chapter of 1 John are two of the most difficult and the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament. And so, let me just tell you, there's a lot to explain here, a lot of arguments I need to make because you're going to hear other views, and I want you to be able to respond to them, so put on your thinking cap, and stay focused, alright? Now, because they're so often misunderstood, we need to start by clearing away the rubble from our thinking.

As I'm often prone to do, I want to start by making sure that we understand what this does not mean. Let's make sure that we're clear about what John is saying and not saying. He does not mean, number one, that "Believers don't sin." We've already seen that in this letter; go back to chapter 1, verses 8, 9, and 10. He says, "If you deny that you have the inherent principle of sinfulness in you, and if you deny that you haven't committed sin, then you don't even know God, because the only people who really know God are the ones who've been reduced to spiritual bankruptcy." (Paraphrase.) That's how Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount, right? If you've never come to the place of the first Beatitude, where you've said, "God, I am spiritually bankrupt; I have nothing, I have nothing to offer you, no way to gain acceptance to you, I am here begging you for mercy." Like the one in Jesus' parable in Luke 18, the tax collector who wouldn't lift up his head to heaven but beat his chest, and said, "God be merciful to me the sinner." That's where it begins, and that's what 1 John 1 says, "You don't know God if you don't acknowledge your sinfulness." (Paraphrase.) In fact, in 1 John 1:9, true believers are confessing their sins and finding forgiveness. So, he is not saying here that believers don't sin. Chapter 2, verse 1, he says, "You know, I am writing because I don't want you to keep on sinning, but if we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father," implying that in fact, Christians do sin. (Paraphrase.) So, that's not what he means.

Secondly, he doesn't mean that believers can't sin badly. Sadly, they can. David, unfortunately, a man after God's own heart, is the quintessential example. David, King David, who wrote so much of our Bible, was guilty of adultery and murder. Peter, a leading Apostle, was guilty of denying his Lord; and later, according to Galatians, of even being willing to compromise the gospel because of peer pressure. So, sadly, we can sin badly.

Thirdly, he's not saying that believers can't live in unrepentant sin for periods of time. Again, David is a quintessential example. We know that David lived in unrepentant sin for at least nine months from the time he began interacting with Bathsheba until the child was born, and he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. So, for nine months, he lived in unrepentant sin.

Now, let me just say that true believers are not going to continue to live in that pattern of sin without being confronted, as David was or being chastened as Hebrews describes it. 1 Corinthians 11 says that there were believers in the Corinthian church who were sick, and some had even died as God had disciplined them for their sin. So, it's not that God allows his children to continue to sin with no confrontation, no discipline; He will do that, but they can sin and live in unrepentant sin for periods of time, not for decades, not their whole lives. We're going to talk about that, that's the point of this passage, but they can live in unrepentant sin for periods of time.

Number four, he's not saying that believers can't struggle with patterns of sin. Clearly, they can, and we do. Abraham obviously struggled with the temptation to lie throughout his life. Even though he was a righteous man, declared right with God, Genesis 15, you find after that was still struggling with the sin of lying. So, it's not saying there can't be patterns of sin.

Number five, it's not saying that believers can gain perfection in this life. The wording in the King James Version is misleading (verse 9) and has led some to this conclusion. It says, "He does not commit sin." That has led some to the conclusion that John is teaching that Christians are incapable of committing even a single sin. Well, there's a practical problem with that; if you're honest with yourself, there's no Christian who's ever been able to say that. But beyond that there's a major biblical problem with the perfection view right here in the context, because perfectionists have to argue that only some Christians don't sin, right? But not every Christian but some Christians reach perfection. Well, that's absolutely contrary to verse 6, which says, "…no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him." So, whatever kind of sinning John is talking about in this context, it's true of every Christian, not just of some. So, it's not perfectionism.

By the way, scripture refutes perfectionism in many places. I already talked about the first chapter of this epistle. Go back and listen to those messages if you weren't here. But Matthew, chapter 6, verse 12, Jesus teaches us as His disciples to pray (What?) constantly, "Forgive us our debts, as we…(forgive) our debtors." Sin is a constant reality in the life of Believers. Go back and study Romans 7, verse 14 and following, where Paul gives us the quintessential explanation of the Christian struggle with sin.

By the way, if you weren't here when we worked our way through the epistle to the Romans, go back and listen; there's an introductory message explaining that whole passage, and then I walk verse by verse through; that is foundational to understanding the struggle that you have with sin as a believer. So, scripture refutes that. So, that's what John does not mean.

What does John mean? Let me put it to you this way. What he means is that believers do not practice sin habitually as a pattern of life. That's the message of the first chapter; go back to 1 John 1, verse 5. This is the first time he gave this test of obedience. Notice how he put it, verse 5, "This is the message we have heard from Him (Jesus) and announced to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." So, if we are saying, if we are claiming that we are having fellowship with God and yet we are walking, and he chooses that word 'walk' very carefully–that word 'walk' describes a pattern, a lifestyle.

If we say that (we're having) fellowship with (God) ("I know Jesus, yeah, I'm a Christian.") and yet (are walking) in the darkness, (In sin–that's what really characterizes our lives.) we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we are walking in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son (keeps on cleansing) us from all sin. (Using Greek tense clarification.)

Notice, "walking in the Light" is not the absence of sin. "Walking in the Light" is the pattern of your life just as walking in the darkness is the pattern of the life of unbelievers. So, you're either "walking in the Light," that's what characterizes your life, or you're "walking in the darkness," darkness or Light, those are the two options. That's all John is saying back in our text, back in chapter 3. Go back there now.

Now, in verse 9, John makes two distinct statements as he fills this idea out, and I want to look at each of them individually. The first statement he makes is this, "A True Christian Does Not Practice Sin," a true Christian does not practice sin. Verse 9, "No one who is born of God practices sin." Now, let me read that back to you; look at your text, but let me read it literally from the Greek text, and the reason I like to do this is because word order in Greek gives you a sort of emphasis. They don't have to follow the word order like we do in English; you can put the words anywhere because they're inflected, you can put them anywhere you want in the sentence, and you move them around to get points of emphasis. So, listen to the original, here's how it reads literally, "Everyone having been born of God, sin not is doing," everyone having been born of God, sin not is doing.

Now, notice he begins with "everyone." Here it's in our text, "no one." It's universally true; there are no exceptions. And then he uses the word "born, who is born." Literally, it's the perfect tense, "having been born." It points to a past event, something that occurred in the past, with continuing results. If you're a Christian, the new birth happened to you at the moment of your salvation, but its results continue. You are still a new creation, and you always will be.

Now John says, "No one having been born of God (No one of whom in the past they experienced the new birth, and the realities of that continue, literally.) is doing sin." Now that's intentional word choice. He doesn't say "is sinning." He says, "is doing sin." And he uses that same expression in verse 4 and verse 8 as well. And in verse 4, he also uses it of "doing lawlessness." And it's used positively of "doing righteousness," in chapter 2, verse 29; chapter 3, verse 7; and chapter 3, verse 10. So, he chooses that word because he's trying to make a point in this paragraph. He doesn't say, you know, the idea that we are sinning, but that we are "doing sin," because he's trying to stress habitual sinful conduct, rather than a sinful act. So, he says this, "Everyone having been born again in the past, is not doing, or (as our translation has it) practicing sin." (Paraphrase.)

Now, that present tense "is doing sin," points back to verse 8, "No one who is born of God continually sins like the devil has been continuously sinning since the beginning." (Paraphrase.) This is settled character. Now why? Why doesn't the Christian practice sin? Verse 9, "because," here's the reason; "His" and "His" is capitalized because we're talking about God. "Because His (God's) seed abides in him," That is, in the believer. Everyone who has experienced the new birth still has God's seed remaining in him. There's the obvious picture of paternity. This expression though, "His seed" occurs only here in Scripture. So, what exactly is "His seed" that remains in the believer?

Well, there are three common interpretations of this. First of all, some say, "Well, it's the Word of God" or the gospel message, the means that the Spirit used to produce the new birth. For example, in James, chapter 1, verse 18, we read, "In the exercise of (God's) will He brought us forth," that's the language of the new birth. "In the exercise of (God's) will He brought us forth by the word of truth." 1 Peter 1:23, "…you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, (What is that seed?) …the living and enduring word of God." So, "the seed," the means the Spirit used to produce the new birth, is the Word of God, specifically, the gospel message. That's certainly an option.

A second common interpretation of this "seed" is that it's not the Word of God, but it's the Holy Spirit, the One who uses the seed, the Word of God to produce the new birth. And this argument makes sense as well. Go back to John, John, chapter 3, you remember Jesus' interchange with Nicodemus, this is when this whole concept comes to life. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, the leading teacher of the day, comes to Jesus; Jesus answers the question that he didn't ask, but that was on his heart in verse 3, "…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (Literally, 'born from above,' in other words, experiences a supernatural divine birth.) he cannot see the kingdom of God." You're not getting into God's kingdom unless you're born from above, you have a different kind of birth than the one you've had. "Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he's old? (How does that happen?) He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?'" How can you start over? How can you have that spiritual birth? "Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter…the kingdom of God."

Now, there's no baptism in that verse. This is a teacher of the Law, Jesus is talking to, and this passage clearly connects to one Old Testament passage, it's Ezekiel 36, where it describes the new birth. We'll look at it in a bit, but in that passage, it refers to God cleansing the heart of the sinner with water, just a picture of cleansing and forgiveness of sin and implanting His Spirit within them–that's being born of the water and of the Spirit. In other words, you have to experience the new birth that's described in Ezekiel, Jesus tells Nicodemus. Verse 7, "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" You shouldn't be amazed; I mean, that's what's in the in the Prophet.

And then He adds, by the way, this new birth is the sovereign will of the Spirit, the Spirit is like the wind; the wind blows where it wills. You can't control the wind; you can't control the Spirit. He decides when to bring this new life, and just like the wind, you can't see the Spirit. How do you know where the Spirit is? By the effects He produces in a life, just like you look outside, and you see the wind affecting, but you don't see the wind. So, that's why some, go back to our text now. In 1 John 3, that's why some say this is the Holy Spirit, this seed is the Holy Spirit.

A third interpretation is, no it's not the word of God or the gospel, it's not the Holy Spirit. It's the divine principle of life implanted the new birth. 2 Corinthians; 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; …old things passed away; behold, new things have come." Ephesians 2:10, "…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." If you're a Christian, you've been recreated; you're not the person you used to be. And I love the way Peter puts it in 2 Peter 1:4, "…He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature." If you're a Christian, you've become a partaker of the divine nature. That doesn't mean you've become a little God. It means that you have implanted within you the principle of divine life; you have the very life of God.

And so, what does it mean here when it says, "God's seed?" As I've considered it this week, I really think the best way to understand God's seed in 1 John 3:9 is a combination of all three of those. And so let me put it to you this way. "God's seed," in our text here, is the divine principle of life implanted in you by the Holy Spirit, through the message of the gospel. And "God's seed," verse 9 says, "is remaining in you." (Paraphrase.) Because the divine life of God remains in every true Christian, he or she doesn't practice sin as a pattern of life because of this radical, complete transformation.

Now, next, John makes a related but second distinct statement here in verse 9. Not only is it true that a true Christian does not practice sin, but secondly, "A True Christian Cannot Practice Sin." Notice verse 9, he makes this explicit, "…and he cannot sin." Now, as soon as I read that, and if you're a thinking Christian, and I hope you are, you're immediately working through in your mind, "Wait a minute, that doesn't seem to fit in frame with other clear statements of Scripture, even in this very letter." Well, others as they've read it, have come to that same conclusion, and said, "Wait a minute, how do we understand this in light of the rest of what Scripture teaches?" Several explanations have been offered to resolve the apparent conflict of this verse with others in Scripture. Let me give them to you and dismantle them, alright?

Here's one, John is referring to only certain kinds of sins here. In other words, he's saying real Christians can't commit serious sins, only less serious ones. The Roman Catholic version of that is, "You're not going to commit mortal sins, but you can commit venial sins." The Wesleyan version or the Methodist version of that is, "No, this is talking about voluntary sins, not involuntary ones, when I willfully choose to sin, that's what Christians won't do." Well, the problem with all of these views is, first of all, nothing in this text indicates there's any kind of sin being talked about. And in fact, verse 4, and here's the deadly blow to this view. Verse 4 says, "…(all) sin is lawlessness." So, he's not categorizing sins here and differentiating them; he's saying they all fit under that umbrella in this context, so it can't be only certain kinds of sins.

The second explanation is that John is teaching the believer has two natures, an old nature that continues to sin, and a new nature that cannot. Now those who teach this view often point to Romans 7:17, where Paul says, "So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." Now, again, if you weren't here, when we worked our way through Romans, go back and listen to those messages on the second half of Romans 7. But let me just summarize it for you this way. Paul was not claiming that he was not responsible for his sin in that text, and he's not claiming that I'm not responsible for mine or you're not responsible for yours. He's simply explaining that the sin that we commit as believers is not the expression of the new creation we have become in Jesus Christ. It comes instead out of that part of us that remains unredeemed. Think of it this way, the wrong view, and I suspect some of you have been taught this, is that before you were saved, you had an old nature, and here's the old nature. And when you were saved, nothing happened to who you were before; that old nature is still there. And you just added to you a new nature, and now you've got the old nature and the new nature, and it's kind of the black dog and the white dog, and the angel and the demon fighting each other, and they're like equal in you.

That is absolutely not what Scripture teaches. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature (creation)." Alright? You have been recreated, Paul says. So, that old nature, at the moment of salvation, became a new nature; you are a new person in Jesus Christ. However, you retain what Paul calls in Romans 6 and 7, "your flesh." What is "your flesh?" It is that part of you that remains unredeemed. Its beachhead is your body because clearly your body has not been redeemed. Paul talks about that in Romans 8, "We … wait for the redemption of our bodies." (Verse 23.) But because your body is the connecting point between the immaterial part of you and the material part of you, your brain, it all kind of mingles together in an odd sort of way. And so, you are a new creation in Christ who still has the flesh, a part of you that remains unredeemed, and that's where the struggle with sin comes.

But back in our text, the reason this view of the two natures and all that can't be true, notice in verse 9, John does not say, "that which has been born of God does not sin." Something like that is what he needed to say if he was talking about a new nature. But instead, he says, "No one (talking about the entire person) …born of God practices sin." So, that view doesn't stand either.

A third view says John is not describing the reality of our condition as Christians, but the ideal that we should be pursuing. In other words, all John is saying is that Christians ought not to sin. Well, that's not what verse 9 explicitly says; it says, this is the current reality. In addition, when you look back at verse 6, "…no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him." So, what he's talking about here is true of all Christians. So, this is not what he's teaching; so, number view number three is out.

View number four, this only describes a few Christians who reach perfection in this life. They're the ones who cannot sin. Well, that's not what verse 9 says. Look at it again, "No one…born of God," so that view doesn't hold up either.

That leads us to the fifth and final view and the one that clearly is in concert with the rest of this book and the rest of Scripture, a genuine Christian does not and cannot practice sin as a persistent pattern of life. That's what he's teaching in this text. That is the best fit with the context of 1 John. Remember back in chapter 1, we learned that true Christians still sin. So that's not what he's saying here. And it best fits the immediate context because whatever John means here isn't true of just some Christians; it's true of all Christians. One other helpful piece of evidence I already mentioned is that John, throughout this passage, adds that word 'doing.' He doesn't say, "Christians don't sin;" he says, "Christians aren't doing sin." That's what he says most often in this passage. They cannot practice sin as a pattern of life.

Now, look at the text again, the word 'cannot' in Greek is dunomai. It's a word that means 'to have the power or ability.' It's kind of like in English when I was growing up. If I asked my mom, "Can I have a cookie?" Now I'm sorry, I grew up in a nerd family, but if I said, "Can I have a cookie? My mom would say, "You're physically able to have a cookie," which is what the word 'can' means. "I'm sorry, may I have a cookie?" That's the word of permission. Same thing is true in Greek. This word 'can' means power or capacity or ability. And so, he says, literally John says, "He is not being able to be sinning," he is not being able to be sinning. The real Christian does not have the power or ability to continue living in a habitual lifestyle of sin.

You say, "Wait a minute, is that consistent with the rest of Scripture?" Absolutely, go back to Romans 6:1 and 2, what does Paul say after he explains the doctrine of justification? He says, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall (can) we who died to sin still live in it?" So, Paul and John are of one voice, saying exactly the same thing. What they're both describing, listen carefully, is not perfect obedience in the life of a Christian, but a pattern of obedience, not perfect obedience, but a pattern of obedience.

Law writes in his commentary on this passage, "The Christian engages (And I love this! Listen!) in a truceless antagonism to sin." There's no truce the real Christian ever gives with sin.

Calvin puts it this way, and I really like this.

Christians are not wholly free from all vice, but heartily strive to form their lives in obedience to God. (Let me read that again, that's good.) Christians are not wholly free from all vice, but heartily strive to form their lives in obedience to God. Sin does not reign in them because the indwelling Holy Spirit does not let it flourish. The power of the Spirit (Calvin says.) is so effectual that it necessarily retains us in continual obedience to righteousness.

It's all about the power of the Spirit. Is the Spirit more powerful than the sin that dwells in you? Of course, He is. And so that's what Calvin is arguing. Smith puts it this way, "The believer may fall into sin, but he will not walk in it." Barclay, I love this quote; he's talking about what is John actually demanding here? Listen carefully, Barclay writes:

He is demanding a life which is ever on the watch against sin, a life which ever fights the battle of goodness, a life which has never surrendered to sin, a life in which sin is not the permanent state, but only the temporary aberration, a life in which sin is not the normal accepted way, but the abnormal moment of defeat.

If you're a Christian, your heart resonates with that and says, "Amen, that's me. That's where I am. That's, that's my heart. I want to obey Christ. And when I do sin, I hate that sin, I fight it. And every day, inch by bloody inch, I'm trying to cut sin out of my life in obedience to Jesus Christ." Why is this true? Look at verse 9. Here's why "…he cannot sin, because he is born of God." What God the Spirit accomplishes in the new birth makes walking in the darkness of sin impossible!

Why? Well, let's go back now to Ezekiel 36 because Ezekiel answers the why. Ezekiel 36, here's why he cannot walk in continual patterns of sin. Ezekiel 36 describes the new birth; it's in the New Covenant promise God makes, and here's how it's explained in verse 25. Ezekiel 36, verse 25, this is God speaking about the new birth that He will accomplish. "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols." What's the water here? Well, in the New Testament we learn it's the washing of water of the Word. It's the Word of God that cleanses us. It's the gospel message the Spirit uses to bring this cleansing. Verse 26, "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

You get a heart transplant, you're changed when you become a true Christian, your heart is transformed, and you now love God, you delight in His Word, you're interested in the things that interests God, you hate your sin, the things you once loved are now abhorrent to you. Even when you commit sin, you hate it with a holy hatred, and you want it out of your life, not just one that's a bother, but all of it. You want to be like Jesus Christ.

Why? Well, look at how he describes it in verse 27, here's why, "I will put My Spirit within you (And when I put my spirit within you, notice, 'I will.') …cause you (This is God speaking. 'I will cause you.') to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." This is why true Christians can't continue in a pattern of sin because they've got a new heart, they've been forgiven, they've got a new heart, they have the Holy Spirit within them, and the Holy Spirit is working within them to cause them to walk in God's ways.

Now, go back to 1 John. So far then, we've discovered two crucial insights about our spiritual ancestry, "A Lethal Deception," and "The Biblical Correction." In verse 10, John finishes this section with a third insight, "The Individual Confirmation of our Spiritual Ancestry." He says, "Listen, there's a test that you as an individual can take. And he starts by identifying "The Accuracy of the Test," verse 10. "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious." Now "by this" refers to the rest of the verse; the test comes later in the verse, but since the rest of the verse is a summary of the previous verses, verse 10, really functions as a summary of John's entire argument.

Notice, there are only two classes here, two categories. There are the "children of God," and there are the "children of the devil." There is no neutral ground. I wish I could get you, right now, to think in your own heart this reality. As you sit here, as you sit here, God sees you as either being His child, or right now, he sees you as a child of the devil. Those are the only two options. Now, your paternity is either of God or of the devil.

Now here's the problem. Most people are not willing to admit their Satan's child. If I asked you how many of you here this morning or Satan's child? I'm probably not going to get many hands, even of those who are. Why? Because none of us like to think of ourselves that way. Nobody likes to say, "That's me." So how can we know?

What's an accurate diagnostic tool that can confirm our spiritual paternity? Verse 10, "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are (Notice the word.) obvious." The Greek word means 'evident, so as to be readily known, visible, clear, open, plain.'

With Sheila's cancer, she's had to take a lot of tests, and with all of the tests that man creates, there is a margin of error. But the test here in 1 John, given to certify our spiritual paternity, is perfectly accurate. Listen, take this test and whether you are a child of God, or a child of the devil will be evident, plain clear, easily known.

So, what are the elements of this test? There are two of them. First of all, there's "The Test of Righteousness," the test of righteousness. Verse 10, "…anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God." This one mark distinguishes the two groups and makes it clear and obvious who belongs to which. Literally, "Everyone not doing righteousness is not out of God." A lack of conduct that is right, or that is in keeping with God's righteous commands, proves that a person is not righteous; they've not experienced the new birth, they are not of God. Literally, "They are not out of God." Their spiritual origin is not in God. Instead, they're children of the devil. By the way, the New Testament talks a lot about unbelievers being children of the devil. Jesus, in Matthew 13:38, you remember the parable of "The Wheat and The Tares;" the wheat being true believers, the tears being false believers. He says, "…the tares are the sons of the evil one." False Christians are children of the devil. John 8:44, Jesus says to the religious people around Him in that day, "You are of your father, the devil." So, an accurate test of our spiritual paternity or ancestry is the consistent practice of righteousness. So, let me just ask you this morning, "Is your life characterized by righteousness or is it characterized by sin?" That will tell you everything you need to know about your paternity. Obedience to Jesus Christ or slavery to sin.

John adds a second element to this test, not only The Test of Righteousness," but "The Example of Love." Verse 10, says, "…nor the one who does not love his brother." This reminds us, by the way, that while obedience is a crucial test of eternal life, it's not the only test. Remember, there are three in 1 John; it's a three-legged stool, they all have to be true. You have to believe in the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel. You have to obey Jesus Christ in His Word, and you have to love God and His people. But this line in verse 10 is like a hinge, the last line of verse 10. Think of it like a hinge, it closes the test of obedience, chapter 2, verse 28, through chapter 3, verse 10, and it introduces the next test, which is going to be love again, in chapter 3, verse 11, down through verse 24. At the same time, it fits. Why? Because righteousness and love are inextricably linked. Love is righteousness. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Galatians 5:14, "…the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." You see, if you truly love your neighbor, you're going to do all the things to him or her that the Law demands. So, love and righteousness are intertwined. Love for our Christian brothers is a crucial part of practicing righteousness. Love is the test of righteousness in how we relate to others. Failing to love other Christians shows that we lack biblical righteousness, which in turn shows that we are not children of God, but we're children of the devil.

These are powerful verses. How should we apply what we've studied together this morning? Well, we don't have to guess because John wrote these verses with three goals in mind. And they're the lessons we need to learn. First of all, John wrote these verses to provide "Personal assurance for true believers regarding their salvation." Don't forget, that is the purpose of this letter. John did not write 1 John to the false Christians who left the church; he wrote 1 John to the real Christians who stayed and continued to believe in the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel, who continued to obey Christ, who continued to love one another. He wrote this letter to give them the hope and assurance of eternal life. And that's why it's written to you. If you're a real Christian, as I've walked through this passage this morning, you've said, "You know what? I can say, Tom, that while my life is not characterized by perfect obedience, it is characterized by real obedience. I love God, I love Christ, I want to obey Him, I want to be like him, I hate my sin, and when I sin, I confess it, I turn from it, I try to walk again in the path of righteousness, this is my life."

Lloyd Jones writes:

To me, it is the height of encouragement, for what I am told is that if I am a Christian at all, if I am a child of God, and the divine seed is in me, then God has started to work in Me, He will go on, and He will bring it to perfection. But He does so by opening my mind and understanding, He reveals sin to me, He tells me to put these things into practice, to press on, to strive. And He gives the final assurance that if I confess my sin, He is faithful and just to forgive my sins, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. And experience confirms that. I cannot continue in sin. I cannot live that life of sin. My very new nature objects to it, and I rise out of it. I confess, acknowledge my sin, I go back, and I strive to walk in the light.

If you're a Christian, again, your heart resonates with that. You say, "Amen, that's me. That's my story." If that's true, then be encouraged. This is the Holy Spirit's work to give you assurance to say you're the real thing.

A second lesson we learned from this is John wrote to provide "Biblical clarity for true believers regarding the claims of false believers." What do I mean by 'false believer?' A false believer is a person who claims to be a Christian, but is not, "Yep, I'm in, I know God, I prayed a prayer when I was five, and I was baptized, and you know, I'm in. I'm the real deal." But there's no evidence of it in their life. They're a false believer. That was true of some the professing believers in the first century. And John wrote to help these people understand, don't be surprised when that happens.

Listen, this helps us; this gives you insight. Everybody in North Texas is a Christian. Everybody around me in the secular world is a Christian. They're not! And John says, "Listen, I want you to know if they're not practicing righteousness, they're not righteous." This is true of family. This is true of friends. This is true of politicians–oh boy, every one of them is a Christian, if they want to get the evangelical vote. If a man is living in a pattern of adultery, and lying and everything about him is outside the fruit of the Spirit, then he's not a Christian! Popstars, sports figures!

This is to give us insight and clarity. But let me tell you, be careful with this information. It's one thing to understand this, it's another thing to misuse it. The right way to use this information is not to go around telling professing Christians, they're not Christians. Especially if they profess the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel. So, I have no problem saying to a Mormon, "You're not a Christian," because he doesn't believe in the biblical Jesus; he doesn't believe in the biblical gospel, I have no problem saying to a Roman Catholic, "You might believe in the biblical Jesus, but you don't believe in the biblical gospel, you're not a Christian."

So, if they believe, however, if they profess to believe in the true biblical Jesus, the true biblical gospel, and are living in sin, the right thing is not to say, "You're not a Christian." You don't know that. The right thing is to do what Paul does in 2 Corinthians 13:5, and to say, "Brother, you better examine yourself to see if you're in the faith, because you're claiming to be a Christian, but you're not obeying Christ, you're not living like a Christian. You may be, in which case Christ is going to discipline you, but you may not be, examine yourself."

Number three, to provide "Biblical clarity for false believers regarding their real spiritual condition." Maybe this morning you came into the service thinking you were a Christian, but if you're honest with yourself, you failed the paternity test. And it's pretty clear, from what we walked through this morning to you, that you're a son of the devil, a daughter of the devil. What do you do about that? Well, here's the problem. How do you become a child of God? It happens because of the new birth, but you can't contribute to your spiritual birth any more than you contributed to your physical birth. So where does that leave you? What can you do? Here's Jesus' answer, Mark 1:15, "Repent and believe the gospel," repent and believe the gospel. I don't want to assume anything.

What is the gospel? The gospel is essentially four truths. Number one, there is one God who made all things, and you exist for Him. Number two, you have sinned against God, your Creator, fallen short of His glory, you deserve His eternal wrath in hell forever. Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." Number three, Jesus Christ, God's eternal Son came into the world as a man to save sinners. He perfectly obeyed God's Law so that He could stand as our substitute, He did what we were supposed to do, so He could represent us. And then He died, suffering the wrath of God against the sins of all those who would believe. Romans 3:25, "God displayed Jesus publicly (on the cross.) as a propitiation (a satisfaction of His wrath) in his blood (And that becomes ours.) through faith." (Paraphrase.) And number four, Christ commands us to repent and believe the gospel. That doesn't become yours automatically; you have to repent and believe.

What's repentance? You have to acknowledge your sin, that you are a sinner; you have to be genuinely sorry for that sin; and you have to express a willingness to turn from everything in your life you know to be sin–that's repentance. You have to turn to God, away from yourself and your sin. And you have to believe.

What does it mean to believe the gospel? It's knowing the gospel, it's believing the Gospel to be true, and it's personally trusting in and depending on the person of Jesus Christ for your salvation, for your forgiveness, for your reconciliation with God your Creator–that's faith.

Here's how John puts it in John's gospel, chapter 1, verse 12:

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in (Jesus') name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.

That's my prayer for you today, that you would throw yourself on the mercy of God in repentance and faith in His Son.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for the directness and clarity of your truth. Lord, you know my prayer as we've walked through this passage. I pray that you wouldn't let a single genuine Christian be unsettled by these things, but rather you would use it by your Spirit, this passage for exactly what you designed, and that is to bring real assurance to their hearts, that while their obedience isn't perfect, it's genuine, it's real, it reflects the desire of their heart. Encourage them even today.

Lord, I pray that at the same time, you wouldn't let a single false Christian rest in some sort of false confidence about their relationship to you. Lord, help them to take the paternity test that you have given and help them to be honest. By the work of your Spirit, confront, convict, help them to look in the mirror of your Word and see who they really are. Lord, you know, my desire. Don't let a single person who attends this church regularly, who's a part of this congregation, be one of those who shows up at the judgment, and says, "Lord, Lord," to whom you say, "Depart from me, I never knew you." Lord, help them to take the test; and if they fail the test, help them to throw themselves on your mercy. I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.


Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

More from this Series

1 John


An Introduction to 1 John

Tom Pennington 1 John

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Priority of Love

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:7-8

Loving One Another - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

Loving One Another - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

A Child of the Father

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:12-14

Do Not Love the World

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:15-17

It Matters What You Believe - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

The Christian's DNA - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

Oil & Water

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:4-6

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love As a Sign of Life - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

This Is Love - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

The Nature of Saving Faith

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-15

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21