The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


1 John 2:28-4:6


' And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him. 'See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother' (2:28-3:10).

We have seen how this letter has been emphasizing three very important things. True Christians are people marked out by:

1. what they believe about Jesus Christ,

2. their showing love to others,

3. their desire to obey God and do His will.

In 2:3-6 it has been shown that if we belong to God we will show it by our attitude of keeping His word and His commandments and trying to live in the way that Jesus lived. We can put it another way by saying that we show who we are by our attitude to sin. Verse 4 says that 'sin is lawlessness'. This lawlessness does not mean that the person has no law to guide his life, but rather he does not let God's law control his life. The person who sins and goes on sinning and has no hatred of sin shows that he is 'of the devil; for the devil sinned from the beginning' (verse 8). There are three reasons why the Christian must take exactly the opposite attitude to sin.

a. Because of what has happened in the past

There was one purpose greater than all others for Jesus', coming into our world, living a sinless life, dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Verse 5 says what it was: `He appeared to take away sins'. As John the Baptist said when he announced His arrival: 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). He came to forgive our sin and to bring us back to God. 'The reason the Son of God appeared, was to destroy the works of the devil' (verse 8). When we sin, we are building up again the evil that Jesus came to destroy. So the true Christian must take no pleasure in sin. We may often slip and fall, but we know that the wrong done must be confessed. We must ask God's forgiveness and then His strength to live more truly and more faithfully in His way (1:9).

b. Because of what we are in the present

If we have turned back from sin to God, then He in His great love has restored us. We are 'called children of God; and so we are' (verse 1). Verse 29 puts this in a slightly different way by saying that we are 'born' of God. This was what Jesus taught Nicodemus (in John 3:1-7). By our physical birth we have life in our bodies. By spiritual birth we have spiritual life. As verse 9 puts it, we have 'God's nature' and not just our weak, sinful human nature. If we live by God's nature that has been given to us, by the life that He has put in us, we will not be able to do what is wrong. Verse 6 speaks, as this letter often does, of the Christian as a person who 'abides in' Christ. If we stay close to Him, relying on His love and strength to guide and direct us, we will not do wrong. The trouble is that often we do not rely on Him as we should, we do not live by our God-given nature, but by our old selfish and sinful nature. Yet if we really are new people in Christ, we will hate the sin that we have done, turn quickly from it back to God, asking His forgiveness and renewed strength. Then there will come to be in us something of the family likeness. As He is pure, we will be pure (verse 3). As He is righteous, we will be righteous (verse 7). If there are no signs of His purity and righteousness and love in us, how can we say that we are God's children and true followers of Jesus Christ?

c. Because of the future that we look forward to

The Christian serves an unseen Master now. We do not see Him but we love Him and want to please Him (see 1 Peter 1:8). The day is coming when He will 'appear'. This is a good word to describe what will happen. He is always with us, always present in His world. But just as He appeared' (verse 8) when He was born in Bethlehem and lived His life for 30 years in Palestine, so He will 'appear' in the future 'in glory' (verse 28 and verse 2). We will see Him as He is. We will meet Him face to face. If we believe this and have this hope, then we will not want to do now those things of which we will be ashamed on that day when we meet Him (verse 28). It is also part of our hope that we who by God's amazing love are made His children now will be made like Him when we see Him (verse 2). (See at 1 Corinthians 15:49 and Philippians 3:21.) Since this is so we should want to be more and more like Him now. As verse puts it, 'Every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as He is pure'.

So it is put to us with great clarity. Make no mistake', 'Let no one deceive you' (verse 7). We show who we are by what we do. If we belong to Christ, the righteous One, it must be seen by righteousness in our lives. The way that we live, will show whether we serve God or the devil. So this section ends by saying to us, 'By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.' The next section is to say more of those last words.


God our Father, help us to live in thankfulness for all that You have done for us in Your Son Jesus Christ; help us to live the life that You intend us to live in the world as Your children; and as we look forward to seeing You face to face may we want to please You now and to live to Your praise and glory. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. Verses 5 and 8 speak the purpose for which Jesus Christ came into the world. How do these statements compare with other verses in the New Testament that tell of the purpose of Christ's coming. See Matthew 1:21, Luke 19:10, John 1:11-12 and 18 and 1 Timothy 1:15 and any others in your mind.

2. What does verse 1 mean in speaking of the world not knowing the Christian just as it did not know Christ? How does John 1:10-11, 15:18-21, 16:1-3 and 17:14-18 help us understand this? What does it mean for Christians in their lives today?


1. Verses 6 and 9 seem rather puzzling when we first read them. Do they mean that the true Christian 'cannot sin'? To understand them like this would not be right from the point of view of our experience, and would make them stand against what is said in 1:8-10. From those verses of chapter 1 it is clear that none of us are perfect, and it would be a lie to say there was no sin in our lives. What these verses in chapter 3 mean is that sin is absolutely contrary to our new nature. When we sin we are acting as if we have not come to know God. If we act according to our new nature, if we act in reliance on God, we cannot and will not sin. The trouble is that each day we are tempted to do our own will and to act in our own strength and wisdom. So when we give in to temptation we must turn back to God, and find that cleansing and forgiveness of which 1:7 and 2:1-2 speak.

2. When verse 9 speaks of 'God's nature', it is literally 'His seed'. It is like what is said in 1 Peter 1:23; we are 'born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God'.