“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”
The following question has led to today’s blog post:
I am writing in hopes of getting some further help on a passage of Scripture. I read Bob’s explanation of 1 John 3:9 and agree with his conclusions. Would I be correct in understanding 1 John 3:10 in the same sense of dealing with a believer’s true born-again nature vs his flesh? The verse seems to be saying that someone’s lack of righteousness and love of other Christians marks them out as being children of the devil. I can see how that would be subjective, though. I also notice that the word practice that is found in some translations does not seem to be in the Greek text. I just want to know how I should understand 1 John 3:10. Your help would be much appreciated.
First, I do not agree with the punctuation in the NKJV. I think that the first line of verse 10 should actually be the last line of verse 9: “Whoever has been born of God…cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest.” I’d put a period, not a colon, after manifest. I think v 10a (as it is currently designated) refers back to v 9, not forward to what follows.
Second, the way in which a child of God manifests his inner self, his eternal sinless self, is by living righteously. Sin is never a manifestation of the born-of-God inner man. Whenever a believer sins, he is manifesting the works of the devil, not of God. Remember Jesus’ words, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt 16:23)? He said those words to the Apostle Peter when he was acting contrary to God’s declared will. Compare 1 John 3:5-6, which says that “in Him there is no sin” and that “whoever abides in Him does not sin.”
Third, the word manifest is crucial here. It is an experiential word. John is not discussing the believer’s position in Christ. Of course, our position is righteous, holy, sinless. Instead, he is discussing the believer’s experience in Christ. Our experience is not perfect.
1 John 3:10b-15 follows up on 3:9-10a. It basically says that in order to manifest a life sourced in God and abiding in Him, we must love our Christian brothers and sisters. Love is the mark of the believer’s inner man.
Here is how Zane Hodges explains 1 John 3:9-10a in the condensed version of his commentary on 1-3 John (you can download the free condensed version here):
3:10a. The NKJV takes this statement as a reference to what follows it (note the colon in its translation). But it is preferable to take the last half of the verse as the beginning of a new unit.
The words In this refer backward rather than forward in this context. The use of the words are manifest in verse 10a link the statement with what has preceded in 2:29–3:9. The children of God…are manifest by their doing righteousness. This is not to be viewed as a test of salvation. John’s one and only test of salvation is faith (cf. 5:1 and 5:9-13). Instead, this is simply a statement about how God’s children do manifest themselves.
Those who see 1 John as a handbook for deciding who is saved and who is not misuse the book grievously. John is advancing the theme stated in 2:28 that boldness in the presence of the Lord is offered to those who abide in Him. By abiding in Him, believers can and do manifest themselves as children of God. But those who do not abide do not so manifest themselves. The reality of their regenerate inward man remains hidden.
The same principle applies to the children of the devil. There is no good reason to take this phrase as a reference to unsaved people generally (see v 8). The expression children of the devil is descriptive in nature. In light of 2 John 9 (see comments there), the Christian who has deviated from sound doctrine about the person and work of Jesus Christ and who vigorously opposes the truth could be so described. This is no more unusual than the fact that Jesus addressed His own disciple Peter as “Satan” (Matt 16:23). The “child of the devil” is anyone who does the devil’s work by opposing the truth.
A believer cannot be a child of the devil. In his position he is a child of God. But a believer can act like a child of the devil. A believer can manifest a life that is opposed to who he is in the inner man. John, of course, is calling for his mature believing readers to continue to manifest righteousness, to live like who they are in the inner self.