1 John 2:29-3:24

This Bible Study was led by Larry Reynolds in the Spring of 2008.

Denton, TX

The Children of God (1 John 2:29-3:24)


            There is a definite shift in emphasis in 1 John beginning at the end of chapter 2.  In the first two chapters to emphasis has been on the identity of Jesus as the Son of God who came to our world to give us forgiveness of sin and new life.  Our responsibility to live in relationship with Him and obey His commandments is stressed.  At the end of chapter 2 and throughout the remainder of this book the emphasis seems to shift from our responsibility to our privilege.   From 1 John 2:29 to the end of the book, the word “born” or “begotten” is used 9 times to refer to our relationship with God and it is not used at all up until that point.  The phrase “children of God” is not found in chapters 1 & 2, but it is used three times in chapter 3 and once in chapter 5.   The word that John uses for children is “tekna” stressing birth or origin or oneness of nature between the parent and child.  In contrast, Paul uses the word “huois” (meaning “son”) to describe our relationship with God which stresses status, position, and legal relationship.  John’s word is more tender and personal.  This large section of 1 John which we are going to just overview tonight stresses our relationship with God as children, as those who have been born of Him.  There are three parts in this section of 1 John:

1)      The divine origin of the children of God (2:29)

2)      The unique privileges of the children of God (3:1-3)

3)      The distinguishing marks of the children of God (3:4-24)


1.   The divine origin of the children of God (1 John 2:29 – “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”) This verse contains two vital truths:

1)      It is God who imparts spiritual life to us.  We are “…born of Him.”  That implies we have no more to do with obtaining spiritual life than we did in obtaining physical life.  We do not earn or cause or deserve it.  Spiritual life is a gift to be received not a reward to be earned.

2)      The practice of righteousness is the evidence that we have received this gift.  Since it is Christ’s nature to be righteous, then it is necessarily the nature of those “born of Him” to do righteousness.

“know” – There are two basic words in the Greek vocabulary for knowing.  “Ginosko” means to know from experience or observation.  “Oida” means knowledge that is intuitive or absolute.  The first word for “know” in this verse is “oida.”  We know intuitively, as a matter of principles that Christ is righteous.  The second “know” is “ginosko.”  We observe, take note of, that everyone born of Him practices righteousness.

“practices” is present tense indicating the doing of righteousness is a habit of life.

The thrust of this verse is that we become children of God in the spiritual realm not because of what we do but because of what God did for us in Christ.  Once we are born of Him, we will exhibit His characteristics, His righteousness in our lives. (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)

2.      The unique privileges of the children of God (1 John 3:1-3 – “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”)  Three unique privileges are spelled out in these verses:

1)      We are recipients of the love of God (v.1a) -  The ancient world view the gods as being arbitrary, cruel, using people as playthings.  God’s were more wrathful than loving.  We’ve been so saturated with the idea of God as a God of love that we may have lost the wonder of that amazing concept.  Notice what John tells us about the love of God.

“See how great a love” translates a single word in the Greek expressing surprise mingled with wonder and astonishment.  The same word is translated “marveled” in Matthew 8:27.

“the Father” reminds us the love comes from God.

“bestowed” tells us this love is a gift granted, unearned and undeserved.

2)      We are members of God’s family (1b) – The purpose of God bestowing His amazing love on us is that we will be “called” (the word was used in reference to titles and the idea is that “we shall be known by…”) the title “children of God.”  John’s readers must have wondered why the world did not recognize them as such.  The last part of the verse explains why.  The world’s hostility toward believers is rooted in the world’s rejection of Jesus.

3)      We are partakers of God’s glory (vv.2-3) – These verses look beyond the rejection of this world to what awaits believers in the next world.

“now we are … has not appeared as yet…” – The privileges and dignity of being God’s children are already ours, but the full disclosure of the glory is yet to be.

“we know” Oida … we know intuitively, unquestioningly…

“be like Him” – This expresses God’s ultimate purpose for us, to conform us to the image of His Son.

Verse 3 tells us that the anticipation of becoming like Christ in the future should motivate us to desire to be like Him now.

3.      The distinguishing marks of the children of God (1 John 3:4-24) – Two basic traits of the children of God are described – righteousness (vv.4-10) and love (vv.11-24).

1)      Children of God are characterized by RIGHTEOUSNESS (vv.4-10) – This idea was mentioned briefly in 2:29.  Now John explains it more fully.

a.       The nature of sin (v.4) – “sin” literally means to miss the mark.  “lawlessness” carries the idea of rebellion.  “practices” denotes a continuous, habitual activity.  All sin is serious because all sin is rebellion against God.

b.      The work of Christ (vv.5-8)

                                       i.      Christ came to take away sins (v.5-8a)

“appeared” – Refers to His coming to our world and all that was involved in His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

“take away” – To life, carry…idea is bearing a burden…

“sins” – Plural…every single one…the result of sin (rebellion) is sins (many expressions of disobedience)

Verse 6 draws two conclusions.  The verb tenses are present indicating a person who persists in sin, for whom sin is the ruling principle of life.  Such a person has not “seen or known Him” (imperfect tenses meaning either in the past or present).

Verses 7-8a contain a strong warning against being led astray by those who deny the importance of righteousness and obedience.

ii.    Christ came to destroy the works of the devil (8b)

“destroy” – Demolish, put to an end.

“works of the devil” – Sins that those controlled by Satan commit.

c.   The nature of the Christian experience (9) – What happens at conversion makes the practice of sin an impossibility in the lives of those who are true children of God.  Again, this verse is not teaching Christians will never sin. (cf. 1 John 2:1)  The aorist tense in 2:1 indicates occasional lapse.  The present tense in 3:9 indicates a habit of life.  While Christians may occasionally sin, that will not be the habit of their lives.  The reason is that God’s “seed” (Spirit or nature or Word) abides (has found a permanent resting place) in him/her.

Verse 10 is a summary statement of this entire section about the children of God being characterized by righteousness and it introduces the next section.

2)      The children of God are characterized by LOVE (vv.11-24) – These verses tell us four things about love.

a.   Love is the heart of the message of the Apostles (vv.11-12) -

Verse 11 is similar in structure to 1 John 1:5.

“message” – Used in 1:5 to set forth a fundamental teaching about the character of God and in 3:11 to point out a fundamental Christian duty …1:5 summarizes Christian theology and 3:11 Christian ethics…these are the only two verses in the New Testament this word is used…

“from the beginning” – Probably refers to the beginning of their Christian life…(cf. 1 John 2:7)

“love one another” – The heart of Christian ethics…

Verse 12 shows that those controlled by Satan do not love.  Cain’s self-centeredness, jealousy, rage, and hate show believers how not to behave toward others.  By contrast Cain shows the magnificence of Christian love, demonstrated perfectly in the life of Christ.  “Cain sacrificed his brother’s life to his own wounded self-love; Christ sacrificed His own life in love to His brethren … Every person belongs to the brotherhood either of Cain or of Christ.” [Law, quoted by Vaughan]

b.   Love is the proof that we have passed out of death into life (vv.13-15) – One reason 1 John was written was to give true believers assurance of their salvation…cf. 5:13 … 2:3 … 3:14 … 3:24 …

Verse 13 is almost parenthetical.  Don’t be surprised when the world does not readily recognize or accept your commitment to the way of God.  The spirit that caused Cain to murder Abel is still at work in the world.

Verse 14 teaches that one evidence that we have spiritual life is our love for others.

Verse 15 states the truth stated positively in v.14 in a negative way.  The present tense of “hates” indicates it is a way of life.

Notice the steps in John’s argument.  Not loving (v.14) is hating (v.15).  Hating is murder (15).  Murder reveals that one does not possess eternal live (15).

c.   Love has its supreme revelation in the sacrificial death of Christ (vv.16-18)

Verse 16 – It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus that we know what love really is.  Had not Christ “laid down His life” we could not have known real love.  We “ought” to love others in that same sacrificial way.  “Ought” is a very strong word meaning indebted or duty bound…

Verse 17 tells us another way to demonstrate genuine love.

      “world’s goods” – The things necessary to sustain life…

      “beholds” – Means to look intently…a long, lingering look…

“brother” – May mean fellow Christian…may mean what Jesus meant in the parable of the Good Samaritan…

Verse 18 is a warning about making talk a substitute for deeds of compassion.  “The love of idle sentiment and the love that ends in soothing words…is not the love that led Christ to the cross.” [Ramsay quoted by Vaughan]