Summarizing What We Know
John distinguished between two types of sin, telling us that some sin is “unto death,” while other sins are not. He apparently realized, however, that it was inevitable that some would misinterpret this to mean that they did not have to be concerned with less serious sins. So in 1 John 5:17 the apostle was quick to remind his readers that “all unrighteousness is sin.”
In other words, the apostle would not have anyone be lawless or even careless in regard to sin. Keep in mind the apostle’s definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “sin is lawlessness.” By using John’s definition of sin wherever he uses the word “sin,” we must understand John to be telling us that all unrighteousness is lawlessness. Likewise, unrighteousness is injustice.
The apostle then begins to summarize his letter with a conclusion, giving us the most important things to remember from his letter. 1 John 5:18 says,
18 We know that no one who is born [gennao] of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him.
The Emphatic Diaglott reads this way,
18 We know that every one who has been begotten by God does not sin; but the one begotten by God guards himself and the evil one does not lay hold of him.
First John says, “we know.” This expresses the confidence that we have in knowing and understanding our relationship with God. What is it specifically that we know? We know that our new man, our new self, our new identity does not sin. Implied in this, of course, is that those who identify with that new identity (new man) and follow his desires, motives, and actions do not sin.
How is this possible? John says that it is because “the one begotten by God guards himself.” In other words, that holy seed within us, which has been begotten by God has the ability to guard himself against sin. Therefore, the evil one cannot “lay hold of him.”
There is a problem in this verse, however. As we see in the two versions above, the NASB says that “He who was born of God keeps HIM,” whereas The Emphatic Diaglott uses the word “himself.” The wording does make a difference. If the NASB is correct, then John is telling us that Jesus Himself, who was begotten of God, “keeps” us (the new man). But if The Emphatic Diaglott is correct, the verse tells us that the new creation man “guards himself.”
So which is correct?
The problem lies in the Greek text itself. Some manuscripts read “him,” while others read “himself.” This slight alteration does make a difference. Dr. Bullinger’s notes tell us, “Most texts read him.” But obviously, the Diaglott translator believed that it should read “himself.”
So once again, I turn to Panin’s Numeric New Testament to see which wording retains the numeric patterns inherent in all inspired texts. Panin’s version reads,
18 We know that every one begotten of God sins not; but who was begotten of God keeps HIMSELF, and the evil one touches him not.
So in spite of the fact that “most texts read him,” the numeric patterns undergirding the Greek text are supported by the word himself.
Hence, we conclude that our new creation man, being begotten of God, has the inherent ability to keep himself from sin. The new man does not require outside help, because “His seed abides in him” (1 John 3:9). The evil one has no power where there is no sin, for his job is to expose all sin that the law condemns. As Paul put it, “the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56), because it is the law which makes sin sinful (Rom. 7:13). If there were no law, there would be no sin (Rom. 4:15), because sin is lawlessness.
The World’s Condition
John then speaks of the second truth, wherein we are confident. 1 John 5:19 says,
19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
Whereas the evil one cannot touch or lay hold of the begotten ones, the rest of the world “lies in the power of the evil one.” In other words, the begotten ones are the ONLY ONES who do not commit sin.
Paul says that the fleshly seed of Adam has passed down the disease of DEATH to all men (Rom. 5:12). Therefore, “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), meaning all who have been begotten by flesh and by the will of man (John 1:13).
That which is begotten by God is exceptional, and it is the only path toward immortality and sinlessness. The second begetting, followed by the second birth, is the key to salvation and to fulfilling the divine plan for creation. All fleshly attempts to achieve this by disciplining the old man may enjoy many successes along the way but can never succeed in the end.
Understanding the Truth
The third point of confidence in John’s concluding remarks is found in 1 John 5:20,
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
Knowing and believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is the key of faith by which we are begotten by our heavenly Father. John’s purpose for writing this letter was to give believers a deeper understanding of that which they believe—or claim to believe.
I have met many believers who want to remain simple in their faith. Faith is indeed simple, for it can be reduced to a simple principle of being begotten by God. The mind of God is very complex, but I want to know Him in every way that I can. Complex things boil down to simple truths, but to understand the simple gospel can require much study.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:3,
3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
“Simplicity” is from the Greek word haplotes, which means “singleness, simplicity, sincerity, mental honesty.”
Paul was not advocating ignorance of all things except simple faith. He was telling the church that they should have an understanding of their faith and relationship to God, so that they would not be led astray by the serpent’s lie. The implication is that if Adam and Eve had understood what was going on, they would not have been led astray. The serpent gave them an alternative view of God’s mind and will, causing them to be double minded.
The solution is to understand the mind of God better, so that we cannot be led astray by lies that pretend to be true. Hence, John’s letter was not designed to give believers an alternative view of truth, but to ground them in the truth so that they would not be led astray by false gods (idols).
But when simplicity becomes an excuse for ignorance, it manifests a person’s lack of spiritual understanding, blindness, lack of “mental honesty,” and perhaps a certain laziness.
James 2:20 tells us that “faith without works is useless” (argos, “lazy, useless, idle”). If someone truly has biblical faith, their faith will not be lazy. Their faith will yearn to understand the nature of God and to know Jesus Christ in a better way. Simplicity is not about knowing just one simple truth. Simplicity is about knowing the truth in its context of many truths. Faith never departs from the simple truth at its core, but it always has a hunger for greater understanding.
Paul too had a hunger for understanding, for he expressed this desire in Phil. 3:10, 11,
10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
In order to know Christ better, our understanding must be increased. So John tells us that Jesus came to give us “understanding, in order that we might know Him.” Understanding is not the same as faith. Understanding is no substitute for faith but is instead part of the outworking of faith. John’s letter was written to increase our understanding of Jesus Christ.
The Final Word
The apostle’s final words are given in 1 John 5:21,
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
The purpose of John’s letter was to assist and equip believers with truth and understanding, so that they might better guard themselves from idols. It is not likely that John was speaking of icons and graven images which were prevalent in his day. More likely, he was concerned with heart idolatry, mentioned in Ezekiel 14:3.
A heart idol is a stronghold of false belief and strong misunderstanding which has taken root in the heart. John’s letter was designed to expose and root out such heart idols, replacing it with confidence that comes with truly knowing God and His mind.
If we know the nature of the new creation man, if we know his purity of Christlike love and sinlessness, we will not be fooled by the evil one, who rules from idolatrous high places in the hearts of men.
If we truly have such knowledge and confidence, then John’s purpose in writing this epistle has been fulfilled.