1 John 3:4-10 (3) Children of God Vs. Children of the Devil (vv. 8-10)
John says, "He that committeth sin is of the devil" (v. 8). Like the verbs used in verse 6 and discussed in article no. 2, the verb used here denotes habitual action. Hence, John has reference, not to one who commits an occasional act of sin and then penitently seeks God's pardon, but to one who persists in sin. Such a one is of the devil. In verse 10 he declares, "In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God." Clearly, then, the one who lives a life of sin is a child of the devil.
But what about the one who has become a child of God in the past, but has since that time forsaken the Lord and gone into a life of sin? Is not such a one still God's child, even though he is in sin? I believe that in one sense he is. In 2 Thess. 3:15 Paul is discussing one who has departed the Lord and is living impenitently in sin, so that he must be withdrawn from; yet, Paul teaches that he is still to be regarded as a brother. Therefore, he is still in God's family. My conclusion is that when the church is viewed as a family, with God as the Father and us as His children, those who go into sin are still in His family; and in the sense ^: still being in the family (the church), they are still His children.
However, the word "child" can be used in different senses. John divides all men into two classes - children of God and children of the devil - and makes it quite clear that those who live in sin are not God's children, but children of the devil - regardless of whether they were once faithful or not. There is obviously a sense in which the one who departs from the faith he once practiced ceases to be a child of God, and becomes a child of the devil.
Usage of the Word "Child"
Sometimes in the Bible the word "child" is used with reference to character. One is said to be the child of another in the sense that he partakes of the character of that one. Note some examples of this usage of the term "child."
In John 8:39-44 Jesus told some Jews that they were not children of Abraham. In a sense they were Abraham's children, for they were his fleshly descendants. Nevertheless, Jesus pointed out that they did not do the works of Abraham, hence were not his children in the sense of partaking of his character. After telling them that they were not the children of God either, He then proceeded to tell them who their real daddy was - the devil (v. 44).
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus teaches us to love and do good to our enemies. Then in verse 45 He says that if we do this we
will be children of our Father of heaven. He then explains why this will make us God's children, pointing out that God sends sunshine and rain to the evil and unjust, as well as to the good and just. Therefore, if we do good to our enemies, we will be like God, hence, His children.
In 1 Peter 3:6 women are told that if they show the proper respect to their husbands they will be daughters of Sarah. They will be her daughters in the sense of partaking of her character,, for she manifested her respect to Abraham by obeying him and calling him lord.
According to Gal. 3:6-7 those who have faith, as Abraham had faith, are children of Abraham. They partake of his character; they are like him in that they have the faith he had.
It is in this sense that John refers to habitual sinners as children of the devil. They partake of his character. In describing them as children of the devil, John explains, "for the devil sinneth from the beginning." Hence, those who live in sin are his children in the sense of being like him. Children of God, on the other hand, are like God, as they derive their character from Him.
Children of God (v. 9)
Verse 9 says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." The verb John uses when he says that the one who is born of God does not commit sin, denotes habitual, continual action. John does not mean that he never commits a single act of sin; he means that the person does not continue in sin, that sin is not his way of life. When he does sin he is careful to penitently seek God's pardon in God's appointed way (Acts 8:22, 1 John 1:7-9). We demonstrated in our discussion of verse 6 that this was the meaning of "sinneth not" in that verse, and the same proofs that were given there apply here as well (see article no. 2).
The reason that the one who is born of God does not and cannot habitually sin is given: "for his seed remaineth in him." What is the seed? 1 Pet. 1:23 makes it clear that the seed of the new birth is the word of God. Therefore, the seed that remains in the one who is born of God is the word of God. It is through the influence of the word that God works on our hearts, changes our character to make us the kind of people He wants us to be. This initially occurs at conversion, but John shows that the working of that seed in our hearts is not to stop at conversion. Through its working we are to continue to derive our character from God, hence continue to be His children in the sense of partaking of His character.
John says that the one who is born of God does not live in sin because the seed, the word of God, remains in him and will not permit him to sin persistently. Is this true of everyone that has ever been born again? Does John mean to teach that if anyone has ever been born again he will not go into a life of sin, because the seed remains in him and will prevent it? No, this cannot be the meaning, for this would contradict the plain teaching of other passages such as 2 Pet. 2:20-23.
The truth is that the clause, "Whosoever is born of God," does not refer to everyone who has ever been born again. Notice the tense of the verb in that clause. John does not say, "Whosoever has ever been born of God does not commit sin." He says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (KJV, ASV, and NASV). The tense of the verb is the key to our understanding. The verb is in the Greek perfect tense. Concerning this tense, Marshall says, "The Greek perfect can generally be taken as represented by an English present: a past action continuing in its effect down to the present, in contrast to an action wholly in the past" (The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, p. vii). Machen states, "The Greek perfect tense denotes the present state resultant upon a past action" (New Testament Greek for Beginners, p. 187). Machen goes on to say that the perfect tense is never used unless the past action had a permanent result. John's usage of the perfect tense, therefore, shows that he is talking, not about everyone who has ever been born again, but only about the one in whom the relationship begun at the new birth continues - the one in whom the seed continues to work. This is the one that does not habitually sin.
In commenting on this verse Vincent says, "The perfect participle indicates a condition remaining from the first: he who hath been begotten and remains God's child." Similarly, the renowned B.F. Wescott comments, "the perfect . . . marks not only the single act . . . but the continuous presence of its efficacy. 'He that hath been born and still remains a child of God.' " John is not talking about everyone that has ever been born again. Completely out of his view is the one who was born again, but later rebelled against God; such a person is not one who "is born of God." John is talking only about the one who continues the relationship begun at the new birth, continuing to let the seed work in him, so that he remains a child of God in the sense of deriving his character from God through the working of that seed. This is the one that does not habitually sin.
Keep in mind the context. John is distinguishing children of God from children of the devil, showing that those who persist in sin are not children of God, but are children of the devil. In verse 9 he simply says that the one who con= tinues the relationship begun at the new birth - that is, continues to be a child of God through the continued working of the seed - does not persist in sin, for the seed will not let him. Those who live in sin, therefore, no longer sustain the relationship that was begun at the new birth. Inasmuch as they have ceased to derive their character from God through the working of His seed, they have ceased to be His children.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 16, pp. 242-243