Jesus’ Coming and Abiding
This paper is an exegetical study of 1st John 3:4-10. The question to be answered is: why did Jesus come? This text teaches against a deceptive false teaching that one may live a persistently sinful lifestyle on the basis of grace. John responded to this with the argument that Jesus came for the purpose of atoning for sins, and that Jesus abides with his people and brings about a resulting righteous lifestyle. By the “coming of Jesus” this paper refers to the incarnational work of Christ. John argued not only for the initial incarnation of the Son of God, but also the continuing work of Christ in his church as he is still incarnate while reigning in session at the Father’s right hand. His conclusion is that rebirth into a vital relationship with Christ results inevitably in a righteous lifestyle. The rationale John gave for this proposition is that the Seed, taken here to mean the Son of God, abides in the Christian (1 Jon 3:9).
This is not the hypothetical “What if I sin?” question which persists in the, virtuously, soft consciences of many people, but is a response to those who refuse to abandon their sinful lifestyles and yet wish to call themselves Christians. This is clear from the present progressive aspect of the verbs in verses 4-6. John notes that these are those who persistently live in a sort of lifestyle of either righteousness of lawlessness. Therefore, the ones who persist in lawlessness have not tasted true abiding rebirth in the union with Christ.
This temptation is particularly insidious because is tempts the believer, not the pagan, to sin on the basis Christ’s manifested gospel. John addressed this to the Church when he said in verse 7, “Do not let anyone deceive you.” The church is the object of John’s direct correction. The hypocrites may be subsidiary occasions, but they are not directly addressed by John as the believer are.
Establishing the Text
This interpretation will be demonstrated in the following paraphrase. There are many wonderful formal and dynamic equivalents to this text. There is no need to duplicate the work done by such scholars. However, part of the stated task of many translations is to leave ambiguity for the sake of interpretation. This is not that goal of this paper. The goal here is to be as interpretative as possible. Therefore, the following translation will make exegetical decisions on word and syntax usage meaning. The words which are translated as part of the text itself will be in normal text, implied meanings (such as antecedents and postcedents, etc) will be placed in italics, and implied theological ideas will be placed in brackets.
1st John 3:4-7 Jesus Came to Atone
“Anyone who currently abides in the promised eternal life in and through Jesus does not lead a lifestyle of sin. Also, sin is lawlessness [with respect to God’s moral standards, and living a lifestyle of sin contradicts that animus by which on is given eternal life]. And, you know that Jesus was presented [on the cross] for the intended results that he may remove our sin [by bearing it on the cross as an atonement for sin (cf. Jon 1:29)], yet sin was not essentially in Him [even in possibility]. Anyone who continues in a sinful lifestyle has neither, ever, known Jesus, or seen Jesus [by faith in how he was “presented” in the act of removing sins and rising from the dead (cf. 2:19)]. Little children, do not let anyone deceive you to believe otherwise than what I just said (cf 2:26). The one who continues on in righteousness is already righteous, as Jesus is righteous [because he is reborn into union with Jesus, and thus imputed the righteousness of God as Jesus bore sin on the cross (see 1 Jon 2:25, 29, 3:6, 9)].”
1st John 3:8-10 Jesus Abides for Results
“The one who continues in a sinful lifestyle is one of the Devil’s children, because the Devil has been sinning since the beginning. For the following purpose the son of God was presented [in the act of removal of sin and resurrection]: in order to destroy the Devil’s work. Anyone who God sired does not continue in a sinful lifestyle. This is because God’s Seed, Jesus Christ, abides in him who God sired; and, Jesus is not able to sin, because God [eternally] sired Jesus. Therefore, by the following test, those who are God’s children or the Devil’s children are obvious [as either once-born or reborn]. Anyone who does not lead a righteous lifestyle is not one of God’s children [who are born of God], nor is he who does not love his brother one of God’s children, but rather is the Devil’s.”
That Jesus came, and that he abides are the facts that contradict the opponent in John’s Epistle. These two doctrines then shape the way the text outlines. Stott argued that this passage was part of the larger argument that there are multiple ways by which one may gain subjective assurance of salvation in Jesus. This particular test is a moral one. In this section, verses 4-10, the argument is that sinful lifestyles contradict the animus of Christ’s appearing. There is symmetry to the text. Both sections begin with statements of hypothetical persons, “anyone who” or “the one who” (c.f. v 4, 8). His argument then proceeds with two themes, sin itself (v 5), and the Devil as first sinner (v 8). Then the contradiction of purpose is demonstrated: to “bear away sin” (v 5), and to “destroy the works of the Devil” (v 8). Finally, the logical conclusion of each section is made: “none who abide in him live sinful lifestyles” (v 6), and “no one born of God commits sin” (v 9). Clearly, therefore, the purpose of Jesus’ atoning and abiding work contradict the animus of sinful lifestyles. He came for the express purpose to bear away sin, that is, atone. And He came for the Express purpose to destroy the works of the Devil, which is to tempt men to sin (Gen 3).
That Jesus was incarnate to bear sins has been argued a great deal in Church history, though not rightly interpreted until Anselm. Even more neglected is the session of Christ as the one who continues his work in the Christian church. These two doctrines are the things which John levies against his opponents. Jesus’ initial and continuing incarnation led John to the doctrinal conclusion that the Christian cannot therefore lead a lifestyle of sin. The nature of which lifestyle is to where this paper now turns.
Now this paper shall turn to the particular occasion of writing. The Christian has already been warned in 2:26, and now is specifically warned concerning this particular false teaching. There are other false-teachings occasions apparent in the book, but this one particularly has to do with the temptation from those who tell the Christian that he may live a carnal lifestyle based in the grace of Christ. John demonstrated that to be no true by his powerful argumentation that because God is righteous, then all who God sires are righteous, even the Seed, Jesus Christ. Therefore, since Jesus abides by rebirth in union with the Christian, then the Christian is will evidence this by love for God’s law and his brother.
It has been argued that there were proto-Gnostic tendencies which occasioned the writing of 1st John. There was no doubt that dualism of one form or another, either abstinent or lascivious, was alive and well in the first century. There is even evidence of those who deny the worth of the body in the first century Common Era which would have likely been contemporaneous to John. One heretic named Cerenthus may fit the occasion perfectly. However, the nature of the argument is not only one of body/soul dualism, but results in an over-realized sense of assurance of salvation. This is so sure in fact that the church was being deceived to live sinful lifestyles, yet they would still claim Christ as savior. Though it may be implied, the text never deals directly with those who deny the importance of the body, or the things done in the body, as the Gnostics would eventually do, and as Cerenthus certainly was doing. Rather, the text deals with the notion that one can simultaneously be a Christian and live a pagan lifestyle.
Hypothetical, Habitual, or Lifestyle?
The next question to be asked regards the nature of the “sin” that marks out the Christian and the child of the Devil. There are three categories that are possible: the hypothetical occasional sin, the habitual sin, and the lifestyle sin. The hypothetical occasion means the possibility that the Christian can and will commit sins on occasion. The habitual is really the same as the former because it is occasional, but simply recurring of the same sin on occasion. The last category, which this paper will endorse as the meaning of John’s usage in this passage, is the lifestyle of sin. The word lifestyle denotes a continuous activity of sinful behavior. However the connotation, which is what this English gloss communicates is that the sin is open, flagrant, and unrepentant. This is a openly lived sinful behavior.
The first two, which are really the same thing, cannot be John’s meaning. He had already been dealt with occasional sins in 2:1-2 where he argued that if someone did indeed commit a sin, then he ought to plead the mediator’s propitious work on his behalf. In 3:7 John pointed to the righteousness of the one who abides in righteousness as a state and as a continuous lifestyle action. The reason he appends to this is that the propitious mediator is righteous. This is clear from the use of the far demonstrative pronoun, which throughout John denotes the propitiator. John invoked this context of the propitiator to ground the concept in this passage by this statement in verse 7, but also in the near context of verses 4-7 in which he makes the argument that Jesus came for the purpose of “bearing away sin” (1 Jon 3:5). These three elements- the original admonition to one who commits a sin (2:1-2), the reference back to the mediator (3:7), and the reminder of the word of propitiation as the current context (3:5) lead to the conclusion that this refers to something other than occasional sins committed by Christians.
The second possibility, recurring habitual sins, fits under this same argument. However, this is only so long as they are defined as recurring occasional sins, not as lifestyle sins. The difference is not the frequency but the sense of the basis upon which they are committed. These are flagrant, open, and defining sins. This is the equivalent of someone saying they are a druggy, prostitute, homosexual, etc; which are all lifestyles. The difference is between one who openly practices and another who may at some point commit a sexual sin, or get drunk. In these latter cases, he should repent and run to the foot of the cross, as John said earlier in chapter 2. However, the issue here is with those who “want their cake and to eat it too.” These want the salvation but without the attendant results which Jesus came to effect in his people.
The present aspects of the verbs demonstrate this. These are not simply committers of sin, they are customary/continuous present “doers of sin.” The “ὁ ποιῶν” is a present customary participle. This describes on ongoing state of occurrence. This “doing” is with respect to sin (genitive of respect). Which are lawless with respect to God. The use of “Πᾶς” lends to the notion that this may be a proverbial statement, but this is not necessary for the argument at hand to still hold true.
John responded to his opponents with three profound arguments. He argues from the empirical test of righteousness, the first coming of Christ, and the abiding work of Christ as three reasons that true Christianity leads to a lifestyle of righteousness. This paper now turns to these arguments.
John’s Test of Righteousness
The contrast in this text is between the pagan and the Christian. It is not a contrast between a hypothetical mature versus immature Christian. Because this is not even dealing with the notion of an immature, or hypothetical carnal Christian, but a pagan who claims to be a Christian, yet who has never tasted true salvation, therefore the text deals with the temptation to sin on the basis of the grace. The opponents were deceiving the church to accept those who would call themselves Christians yet live sinful lifestyles.
John responded to this thinking when he concluded that those who live these sinful lifestyles are in fact not Christians, contrary to their (assumed) profession of him. This is clear from the change of verb tense from present to imperfective in verse 6. John concludes, in an empirical way, that those who lead sinful lifestyles “οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν οὐδὲ ἔγνωκεν αὐτόν.” This means that they did not ever know him in the sense that they had a true faith in him because they currently live these kinds of lifestyle.
John returned to this empiricism at the end of the section when he gave a test which would manifest (φανερά) if one was of the God or the Devil. The empirical test is the righteousness of the person. Once again, John returned to his similar construction of the present customary lifestyle when he says in verse 10, “πᾶς ὁ μὴ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην.” This time it is placed in the negative, “anyone who does not do righteousness” instead of verse 4, “anyone who sins.” Thus the empirical test is this lifestyle. The converse is true of the Christian. The true Christian will lead a lifestyle of righteousness. This can be deduced by parity, and it appears earlier in the text (v 9). This fits also with the whole context of tests that help the Christian gain a subjective assurance of salvation.
This empirical test refers to the analogical distinction between the mind of God and the mind of man. It is not for man to know the mind of God in a qualitatively equal way (Duet 29:29, Rom 11:33-36). This is why man needs revelation about God to be accommodated to him. So there is a sense in which one may understand the works of God as the fruit of God’s work. One cannot ask, “Am I elect?” but he can ask “Do I believe in Jesus?” after which one would be able to conclude that he is justified before God. This same sort of thinking is true for John here. He is arguing from the effects of the work to the cause of the work. If God has freed the Christian from a lifestyle of bondage to sin, then there is a sense in which that lifestyle has been renewed by the very living power of God almighty.
He has also used this reasoning elsewhere when dealing with the antichrist ones who left the church. He made the argument that those “but they went out from us, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 Jon 2:19). His argument is from the effect to the cause. Therefore this kind of argument is not foreign to John, but shows that this passage articulates a theology of righteousness which is the result of the purpose. Jesus came and abides in order to destroy sin and its effects.
Jesus’ Purpose in Coming
The first coming of Christ was marked by the accomplishment of the salvation of man when Jesus died for the sin of man on the cross. There was a great exchange of the sins of man upon the righteous one on that day. John argued that when Jesus came, he came with a purpose, “to bear away our sins” (1 Jon 3:5). How does is follow that because Jesus bore sin then the Christian must not live a sinful lifestyle? The particle “ἵνα” gives the purpose of what Jesus came to accomplish in verse 5. Jesus came to “ἄρῃ” in order to “take away” our sins. From this “taking away” John concluded that the Christian would live a righteous lifestyle, as he continues the present customary aspect in verse 5. The interpretative task is to determine how it is that the work of Christ brought about this new lifestyle in the Christian. The answer to this tension is that “taking away,” or “bearing” in verse 5 refers to the work of Jesus on the cross. In Jesus’ obedient death, he made the propitiation for sin. Thus Jesus came to bear sin as a sacrifice to avert God’s wrath.
The conclusion follows as the animus of the cross was to take the punishment for sin, and thus to earn reward of a people who are righteous. Therefore the justified Christian is not free to sin, but free from the power of sin as a justified person. This is clear from the other Johannine uses of the word “ἄρῃ,” and the near context in verse 7.
It is important for the reader to perceive the sacrificial connotation of the term. It is clear from John’s usage of the term “ἄρῃ,” in the corpus of his writing that he means to demonstrate that Jesus came for the express purpose of bringing an end to sin. Therefore, to sin is a to act against the animus of that work.
In the Septuagint, the same word is used for sacrifices which bear the sins of the sacrifice (Isa 53:1-12, LXX). John 1:29 records the words of John the Baptizer as he made an interpretative declaration about the nature of Christ’s person and mission. He called him the “lamb of God who bears away the sins of the world.” John the Baptizer used the lamb image to describe that Jesus is taking the sin of man as a sacrifice. Jesus is the typological fulfillment of the sacrificial system. The analogy which John brings in the connotation of this word is not only that the sins of the guilty are placed upon the victim, but the victim affords a new life of righteousness to the one being justified.
This must be followed further. The term “αἰρω” (bear away) appears in Isaiah 53:8, “ἐν τῇ ταπεινώσει ἡ κρίσις αὐτοῦ ἤρθη· τὴν γενεὰν αὐτοῦ τίς διηγήσεται; ὅτι αἴρεται ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ, ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνομιῶν τοῦ λαοῦ μου ἤχθη εἰς θάνατον” (Isa 53:8, LXX). The context is the one who “like a lamb to the slaughter” would die without a fight, as a sacrifice or “guilt offering” (Isa 53:10). The result of this act however, would not be simply the death of the Lamb of God, but also of his vindication. Isaiah 53:12 goes on to say, “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” The idea is that the one who died would be vindicated and rewarded for his obedience. The reason, because he “bore” then he would be rewarded for the bearing. John portrayed Jesus as well aware of the fact that he would merit the justification of his people especially when he prayed for the reward (Jon 17:1-6).
The connotation of the lamb leads to this sort of general animus that the Christian would lead a lifestyle of righteousness out of gratitude, but this reward for probation idea pushes this out of the realm of animus and into the realm of certainty. It is not just doing what makes sense in light of the death of Christ, that is, being grateful, and reflecting that in one’s lifestyle choice. The idea here is that the probation led to the reward of the spoils of war being given to the probation keeper. Not all of these ideas are present in John’s passage, but this does give a paradigm for interpreting the passage. It would be illegitimate transfer of meanings to argue that John meant all of these things when he made this case. The idea here is that Jesus not only earned justification for his people, but he also earned the people themselves.
The near context of verse 7 also shows this notion that Jesus earned a people for himself when John said that “The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous” (1 Jon 3:7). He fights the deception that says that they are righteous even if they practice lawlessness, and makes the conclusion that the righteous lifestyle comes from the source. There is little distinction here from being justified as righteous and pure before God as in verse 3 above. The righteousness is an imputed righteousness from the Lamb of God onto the sinner.
The significance of the first Advent for John is that Jesus has come to justify a people for his self by atoning for their sins (1 Jon 2:1-2). The idea is that the purpose, or animus, of the first coming was to bear away sin. However, this extends to the concept that Jesus merited not only the justification of his people, but also the people themselves as reward for the work. Though this latter part of the interpretation is not explicitly present in the context, it is difficult to interpret the term “bear away” without it. Jesus came with a purpose, to justify a people for his self.
Jesus’ Abiding Results
Jesus not only came to justify and earn a people for his self, but he also came for results in the Christian life. This is empowered by the presence of God. The final argument is that because Jesus remains working, then the Christian lives a lifestyle that is the fruit of the seed of God.
The image used is that of a seed in verse 9. This paper contends that this seed is the very Son of God working in and through the Christian by the Holy Spirit. Severus of Antioch said, “What is the seed of God that dwells in believers? What else but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by which we have been born again? This presence never leaves us.” So the seed should be capitalized, this is the Seed.
The reason for this interpretation is first that the Seed is God’s. In verse 9, the antecedent of “αὐτοῦ” is “τοῦ Θεοῦ.” This is God’s Seed. It would be difficult to think of this as anything other than God himself working in the Christian. It could be the word of God preached, but still, this would require God to act as illuminator, so it does not change much.
Second, the image of vine and fruit is common through John’s writing. John said that the Seed “abides.” The verb “μένει” means simply to remain. The point of this passage is that Jesus has not left his people alone, but remains with them. This further illustrates the claim that the Seed is the Divine Essence working in and through Christians when compared to John 15:1-12 where Jesus told the disciples that he is the vine, or energy source, and they are the branches, and thus they are told to abide in him, and he in them. This abiding nature of the seed leads to the conclusion that this is Jesus abiding in the Christian.
Third, and most importantly, this interpretation clarifies a great difficulty that many have had in interpreting this passage as a basis for perfectionism in the Christian life. The word “he cannot sin” in verse 9 can cause great consternation to those who either want to be intellectually honest with 1 John 1:9, 2:1-2, or Romans 8:1. However this is clarified if one takes the subject of “δύναται” to be the “Seed.” The Seed, Jesus Christ, is totally incapable of sin, and he has been born of God. This also clarifies the repetition in the verse. It begins with “No one who is born of God” and ends with “because he is born of God.” John seems fond of repetition, but not without clarity. It could be paraphrased like this, “no one who is born of God lives a lifestyle of sin because Jesus the Seed of God remains at work in him, and the Seed cannot sin because he is born of God.”
Therefore, because Jesus abides in the Christian, the Christian will continue in a lifestyle of righteousness. This not only satisfies the interpretative appetite, but it also gives hope to Christians as Jesus has not left the church to her own devices, but he continues to care for her. The Seed is abiding in each Christian working the work of righteousness.
Why did Jesus come? This question is perhaps best answered by an illustration. In 1944 when the ally troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, the ultimate victor of the continent during World War II was decided. This day has become known as D-Day. This is the decisive victory that determined the ultimate victor. Though battles would be won or lost between from that point on, the allies were determined to win the war. It was not for several months that V-Day, victory day, came about. The Cross of Christ was the Christian D-Day, and the Second coming is V-Day. The Christian looks to that decisive day as his trust that ultimate victory will come.
Between D-Day and V-Day there are a great many battles to fight, but that is just what is so beautiful about this passage. It reminds the Christian that D-Day has come, and V-Day is coming, but also that Jesus continues to take ground all the way until V-Day. He has not stormed Normandy and then left. He continues to work, to lead, and to fight. The Christian will experience many battles between those two great days, but this passage reminds him that Jesus abides and still fights until that final day.
Why did Jesus come? Jesus came with a purpose to bear away sin, and he came for results in the life of his people. He came to create a righteous people. Those he justified, he also continues to lead to victory.
Ancient Christian Commentary: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Eds. Gerald Bray, Tom Oden, Vol 11 Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000
Baugh, Steven M, A First John Reader, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003
Bavink, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics, Ed. John Bolt. Trans, John Vriend. Vol 3 Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006
Irenaeus Against Heresies http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103303.htm, Cited on April 9 2010
New American Standard Bible, La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1994
Stott, John R.W. Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series: The Epistles of John, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964
Taylor, Bernard A. The Analytical Lexicon to the New Testament: a Complete Parsing Guide, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994
Vincent, Milton R. Word Studies in the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishers, 1946
Von Wahlde, Urban C. “The stereotyped structure and the puzzling pronouns of 1 John 2:28-3:10” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 64 no 2 Ap 2002, p 319-338
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996
Yarbrough, Robert, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1-3 John, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2008
 See 1st John 2:24-25
 See 1st John 2:1, and throughout the epistle. The far demonstrative pronoun almost always points back to that antecedent.
 The variant has the possessive pronoun. It is unlikely original, but the meaning is still implied by the article. See Baugh, Steven M, A First John Reader (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003) rule 5.
 This is a locative, but the figurative meaning must not just be physical location, but the nature of the thing. In essence he was sinless.
 “already” is implied in the perfective aspect of the present tense which fits the context and the way the copula is used here. See Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 532-533
 Partitive Genetive fits the way John used this elsewhere, John 8:44.
 Gloss from Steven M Baugh Class lecture notes at Westminster Seminary California (2010)
 Stott, John R.W. Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series: The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964) 120-121
 Anselm the Archbishop of Canterbury (d.1109) first elaborated this doctrine in his Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man) in 1097 a.d. He was not the first to deal with the issue, but the first to accurately understand that the infinite guilt of man before God required infinite merit on behalf of the mediator, Jesus Christ. For more on this see, Bavink, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics,Ed. John Bolt. Trans, John Vriend. Vol 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006) 343-344
 Yarbrough, Robert, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1-3 John (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2008) 35
 Irenaeus Against Heresies 3:3:4 “There are also those who heard from him [Polycarp] that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus [a heretic who had particularly anti-physical dualist tendencies] within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103303.htm, Cited on April 9 2010
 Stott, 124
 Wallace, Daniel, B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 521. He takes this to be a Gnomic present, which means the proverbial. This is really only different as it is a timeless fact, rather than continuous action. This is a subset, or slight variation on the theme, and does not detract from the current thesis, but rather shows that this is something that marks out someone from a single instance/occasion. The thing at hand, is not a moment of weakness, but a continuous-lifestyle.
 Ibid. Wallace, 522
 It is important to note that the reason one does righteous things in John comes from the initial work of Christ, and not the work of man, as Roman Catholic interpreters often mistake. For example, as one author argues, “One’s parentage is determined by one’s actions” which means that one’s actions makes one either a child of God or the Devil, not that being either a child of God or the Devil determines one’s actions. Von Wahlde, Urban C. “The stereotyped structure and the puzzling pronouns of 1 John 2:28-3:10” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 64 no 2 Ap 2002, p 319-338
 Stott, 121
 Ancient Christian Commentary: James, 1-2Peter, 1-3 John, jude Vol 11 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000) 200