Christian Perfection by Grace and Works
Perfection of John
The first letter of John is the most comprehensive letter in the New Testament dealing with Christian perfection. Sin is darkness. Living without sin is living in the light. There is no gray. You are either in the light or in darkness. The light is Christian perfection. Christians, however, move back and forth between the light and the darkness. When filled with the Holy Spirit, you are in the light.
This letter uses the word "perfect" with regard to love. We are perfect, living without sin, living in the light, when we have perfect love. John associates abiding in Christ with living without sin. John says whoever is born of God cannot sin. So even being born of God is something that one can move in and out of as one is filled with the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit withdraws. The Holy Spirit withdraws if we choose to sin and move back into the darkness.
John also talks about the spirit of antichrist in this letter. This is very much related to the Gnostics of that day. But it's also very insightful in understanding the final antichrist and the one-world religion that is coming.
John begins by reminding us that John himself was physically with Christ. John was a disciple. This means that John physically abided (lived) with Christ. Jesus was with the Father and brings eternal life. In order to receive eternal life we must also abide with Christ in much the same way that John was a disciple of Christ. But we need to understand what John said at the start of chapter 2.
John said, "And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." Christ's death atoned for not only the sins of his disciples, but also for the sins of the whole world. The whole world does not keep Christ's commandments. Only Christ's disciples keep his commandments.
This same verse, at the start of chapter 2, says that only those who keep his commandments actually know, or dwell with, Christ. Only those who keep his commandments are his true disciples. Thus, salvation is not only for the disciples of Christ. Salvation is for the whole world. But eternal life is only available for those who become a disciple of Christ, and obey his commandments. With this in mind, what does John mean by the "Word of life"?
1 John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (2) (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); (3) that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (4) And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled.
After qualifying himself as one who saw, touched, lived with, and was personally taught by Christ, John gets into a major point that continues throughout the letter. We must live without sin. We must remain in the light. John uses light and darkness as a metaphor for living in sin or living without sin. John compares the light of God with the light that we must have if we expect to have fellowship with Christ. John is saying this comes from the teaching of Christ himself. In other words, John just pointed out that he was a personal witness to everything Christ had said. And the first thing that John testifies to us about what Christ said is that we must also live in the light, which is to live without sin.
1 John 1:5-10 This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (6) If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we haven't sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The Reformed view is that you can't completely stop sinning. To make this case, verse 8 is often taken out of context. But John is talking about past sins. Verse 10 says the same thing. Verse 9 says we need to be forgiven. So verse 8 is simply saying that we have sinned in the past and thus need to be forgiven. It's not saying we can't completely stop sinning. This is undeniable when you consider that John has just stated that we must walk in the light just as God is in the light. In God there is no darkness at all. Likewise, we must walk with no darkness at all. As we progress through John's letter, the sinless walk is stated over and over. So taking verse 8 out of context is to also take it out of context for the entire letter. There is no gray between the light and the dark.
As mentioned in the introduction, most Reformed theologians will concede that verse 10 is talking about past sins. But they insist that verse 8 is talking about present sins. In the Greek, verse 1:10 uses a verb for "sinned". And of course that verb is in the past tense (indicative, perfect, active). But in verse 1:8, a noun is used for "sin" instead of a verb. In this translation, the word "no" is modifying the noun "sin." But in this verse, the Greek word for "no" is an adverb. Therefore, it should modify the verb, not the noun.
The verb means "to have", or "to hold." So literally speaking, it could be translated as: "If we say we do not hold sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." If we don't translate it like this, we have an adverb modifying a noun. Having sin, or holding sin, can easily be talking about having or holding the guilt of sins that were committed in the past. It would be like an alcoholic saying he or she "holds" alcoholism but might or might not be currently acting upon it.
So why do Reformed theologians insist on this traditional translation where an adverb modifies a noun? Why do Reformed theologians insist that John is not teaching that you cannot completely stop sinning? It's because they are working under the Greek-like paradigm that everyone goes to heaven or hell when they die. If the only way to go to heaven is to overcome all sinful habits during this age, then very few people will be saved. Very few would find this narrow gate. But if the wide gate does not lead directly to hell, then we can interpret John literally and avoid clinging to a traditional mistranslation of a single verse, which tends to be used to change the meaning of the entire epistle.
1 John 2:1-6 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. (2) And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. (3) This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. (4) One who says, "I know him," and doesn't keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn't in him. (5) But whoever keeps his word, God's love has most certainly been perfected in him. This is how we know that we are in him: (6) he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked .
Again, John is treating sin as something that you either are doing, or you are not doing. If you sin, you can repent. Jesus forgives us. Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf. Then John talks about keeping the Father's commandments. This is like Matthew 7:21, in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talks about those who will say "Lord, Lord" when Christ returns. They don't do the will of the Father.
These commandments are instructions for doing the works of the Father. As we do the good things the Father has for us, God's perfect love is perfected in us and we do not sin. This is Christian perfection. The only way to stop sinning is to walk as Jesus walked. This means we must walk without sin, as Jesus walked without sin. But more importantly, in this context, it's a walk of obeying God's commandments. It's a walk of doing the works the Father has for us. We know Christ only if we keep his commandments and do his works.
The secret to understanding how to overcome all our sinful habits is to understand this relationship between doing the works of the Father and remaining in the light. We remain in the light when our thoughts are pure. We remain in the light when we don't have lust, anger, or covetousness popping up in our hearts. We remain in the light when we love the Father and love our neighbors. This happens only by obeying the commandments of the Father. This means doing the good works that the Father has for us. As we do the good works of the Father, the Holy Spirit fills us and we don't sin. We become consumed with doing works, and sin no longer has a place in our lives. The sinful habits simply disappear as we become consumed with doing the Father's works.
1 John 2:7-17 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. (8) Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (9) Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness . (10) Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. (11) But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (12) I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (13) I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (14) I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (15) Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. (17) The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
These verses also bring us back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus speaks of lust and anger as being adultery and murder. Sandwiched between Jesus' teaching about anger and lust is a teaching that is often skipped over. We must come to terms quickly with an accuser that is bringing you to court (Matthew 5:25-26). The issue here is about money and possessions. The commandment involved in this issue is covetousness. This is another sin that can consume us on the inside while we appear to be clean on the outside.
We can appear clean on the outside, but on the inside we have not defeated the evil one. This is darkness because we hide what is on the inside. When our thoughts are clean, we are truly in the light. When our thoughts are clean, we have nothing to hide. John relates these temptations to the things of the world. Lust of the eyes certainly includes sexual temptation that can manifest in our thoughts without necessarily leading to physical sex outside of marriage. The lust of the eyes also includes covetousness. This is living in darkness. But if our thoughts are clean, we are living in the light.
1 John 2:18-25 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (19) They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (20) But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (21) I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. (22) Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist —he denies the Father and the Son. (23) No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (24) See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. (25) And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.
Those who left John's followers were probably the Gnostics of that day. They taught that the spirit of Christ came upon Jesus at the time of his baptism. They taught that the man Jesus became possessed by a spirit which is Christ. And that spirit left him before the crucifixion. From this one would conclude that Jesus himself is not really the Son of God. The spirit of antichrist will always allow for a certain amount of truth, but will distort the truth in such a way that it denies that Jesus is the Christ. The spirit of antichrist also denies that Christ died for our sins.
The "many antichrists" that have come were probably the Gnostics of that day. But John also understands that "the antichrist is coming." The final world ruler, the antichrist, will come when Christ returns. The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ is the antichrist. The Gnostics of that day were moving in the spirit of the antichrist. This made John believe he was living in "the last hour." In other words, John most likely believed that Christ would return in his lifetime. Paul believed the same thing when he included himself in those who would be caught up in the clouds. Paul said, "We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17). Every generation is taught to believe that Christ will return in their lifetime.
The implication here is that in the end times there will be another false religion that has this same characteristic of denying that Jesus is the Christ or that Jesus is the Son of God. In Revelation John gives us more about this false religion.
Revelation 17:9-11 Here is the mind that has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits. (10) They are seven kings. Five have fallen , the one is, the other has not yet come. When he comes, he must continue a little while. (11) The beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goes to destruction.
The empire that controlled Jerusalem at the time of John was the Roman Empire. The five empires which controlled Jerusalem prior to John were the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and the Greek empires. The empire which would control Jerusalem after John is the Islamic Caliphate. Thus, at the time of John, five had fallen, one was, and another had not yet come. The empire of the antichrist is an eighth empire. He belongs to at least one of the seven and goes to his destruction. Since the eighth belongs to one of the seven, there are still seven heads. As the following verse shows, one of the heads has a fatal wound which is healed. Thus, the eighth belongs to the seventh. The seventh has the fatal wound and is healed, giving rise to the eighth.
Revelation 13:3 One of his heads looked like it had been wounded fatally. His fatal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled at the beast.
Thus, the Islamic Caliphate will be healed and Islam will become the one-world religion of the end times. In other words, the Islamic Caliphate will be reformed.
We seem to be seeing the start of that head being healed today. The Arab Spring that we see happening today is removing all the dictators and kings in the Muslim world. This is making room for a revived caliphate.
Many, if not most, of the Muslims do not consider most of the dictators and kings of the Islamic countries to be truly Islamic. A truly Islamic nation is ruled only by sharia law and is governed only by a single caliphate.
The caliphate is the single governmental ruling body of Islam. In some ways, it's like the Vatican and the pope. But with sharia law, you can't separate church and state. The caliphate goes all the way back to Mohammed. It was abolished in 1924. Revelation 13:3 would seem to indicate that this fatal head wound will be healed. The caliphate will be reformed and Islam will become the global religion of the one-world government, ruled over by the antichrist.
How does Islam fit the antichrist empire that is coming? John says the antichrist denies that Jesus is the Christ. The antichrist also denies that Jesus is the Son of God. The greatest sin in Islam is to believe that God has a Son, or that God would die for our sins. Islam states that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). But they don't consider the word Messiah to mean the same thing. In Islam, Jesus is a prophet. But he is not the greatest of all prophets. Muhammad is considered to be a greater prophet than Jesus. The true meaning of the Messiah, however, is that of the highest king. Jesus Christ is the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords. This makes Jesus the Prophet of all Prophets. So Islam really does deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). And Islam denies that Jesus is the Son of God.
The third common characteristic that Islam holds with the old Gnostic religion is that they both deny Jesus died for our sins. The Gnostics believed the spirit of Christ left Jesus before Jesus died on the cross. Thus they do not believe Christ (the Messiah) died for us. In a similar fashion, Islam believes that someone else died on the cross instead of Jesus. John will revisit the subject of the antichrist in 1 John 4:3. He also comes against Gnostic beliefs again in chapter 5.
1 John 2:26-29 These things I have written to you concerning those who would lead you astray. (27) As for you, the anointing which you received from him remains in you , and you don't need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, you will remain in him. (28) Now, little children, remain in him, that when he appears, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. (29) If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of him.
What is the "anointing"? In the Old Testament, kings were anointed by pouring oil over them. The world "Messiah" means the "Anointed One." The oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. This is why the "anointing teaches [us] concerning all things." When Jesus left, he promised the Holy Spirit would come. He said, "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you" (John 14:26).
In verse 2:29, John compares the righteousness of Christ with the righteousness that is expected of us. This is very similar to the comparison of the light of God. In God there is no darkness. We are expected to live in the same light. Right after saying Jesus is righteous, John says, "Everyone who practices righteousness is born of him." So everyone who does not practice righteousness is not born of Christ. There is no middle ground. John continues with the topic of being born of God in chapter 3.
1 John 3:1-2 Behold, how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn't know us, because it didn't know him. (2) Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is.
What does it mean to be "born of Him?" What does it mean to be "children of God?" The difference between being literally born again and being spiritually or figuratively born again is a new concept for many Christians. But this distinction is important in understanding the next verses in John's letter. In other words, 1 John 3:9 (several pages below) says, "Whoever is born of God doesn't commit sin, ... and he can't sin, because he is born of God." Most Christians interpret the term "born again" as a one-time event that begins their Christian journey. Is John really saying that those who profess faith in Christ will never sin again after they profess Jesus Christ as Savior for the first time?
This can be confusing for those who don't understand the distinction between being literally born again and being figuratively born again. Because of this confusion, many simply water-down what John is saying and take the Reformed view that you can't completely stop sinning. For this reason, we must take a short detour into John's gospel. We must see what John said that Jesus really taught about being born again.
John 3:4-8 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (5) Jesus answered, "Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can't enter into the Kingdom of God! (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Don't marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.' (8) The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don't know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Notice the parallelism between being born of water and being born of flesh. Just before babies are born, the mother's water breaks. We come into this world as born of flesh. In the next life, we hope to be born from the Holy Spirit. We will have a new spiritual body that is made by the Holy Spirit. We will literally become a child of God instead of being a child of our parents. Those who have spiritual bodies can appear in the middle of locked rooms like Jesus did after the resurrection. So we can "come and go like the wind." But this doesn't mean that the spiritual body is just a spirit. It simply means the body was made by the Spirit.
We refer to ourselves as being saved if we have the promise of the resurrection. The resurrection saves us from the grave. So we figuratively refer to ourselves as past-tense saved if in the future we will literally be saved from the grave. Likewise, we can refer to ourselves as figuratively born again if in the future we will literally get a new spiritual body. We don't have to enter our mother's womb. But we really do get a new body. This is what it means to be born again. To literally be born again is not something that happens at the start of our journey with Christ; it happens at the completion of the journey.
Why do New Testament writers use past-tense verbs to refer to future-tense events? It's from Old Testament or the Hebrew way of writing. Paul writes, "God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17). In that very same verse Paul quotes Genesis 17:5, which says, "I have made you a father of many nations."
This was said and written long before it was fulfilled in Abraham. But it's stated in the past tense. God uses a past-tense verb in speaking of the future. In Hebrew thinking, the past is clear to see. The future cannot be clearly seen. When God speaks about the future using a past-tense verb, God is saying that it's as certain as past-tense events. In the New Testament, the future events of being saved from the grave and being born again into a new spiritual body are referred to with the same absolute certainty. Thus, past-tense verbs are used. In the New Testament, we can read verses that say we are past-tense "saved." But we are still on a journey of salvation that has not yet been completed. Here are more Old Testament examples of past-tense verbs being used for future events.
Isaiah 9:6 YLT For a Child hath been born to us, A Son hath been given to us, And the princely power is on his shoulder, And He doth call his name Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed.
So now we can return to John's letter. What does it mean to be "born of Him?" What does it mean to be "children of God?" Spiritually, or figuratively, it's a promise of that which will come. When it comes, we will be like Christ. He has a spiritual body. His body was born of the Holy Spirit. Of course Christ's biological father was the Holy Spirit. So he was always the Son of God. But when Christ returns, we will be like Him. We will literally be born of the Spirit. We will literally be born into new spiritual bodies. And thus, in the future, we will be called children of God just as Jesus is the Son of God. Of course Jesus is God. We will not be God. So what does it take to literally become born of God?
1 John 3:3-9 Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (4) Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. (5) You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. (6) Whoever remains in him doesn't sin. Whoever sins hasn't seen him, neither knows him. (7) Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous . (8) He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (9) Whoever is born of God doesn't commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can't sin, because he is born of God.
Verse 9 says, "Whoever is born of God doesn't commit sin, ... and he can't sin, because he is born of God." Most Christians interpret the term "born again" as a one-time event that begins their Christian journey. But literally speaking, it's a future event. Figuratively speaking, we are "born of God" when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a promise of becoming a literal child of God. If we sin, the Holy Spirit withdraws. But if the Holy Spirit is in us, we cannot sin because the seed (beginning) of that spiritual birth is within us.
The phrase "everyone who has this hope" connects us back to verses 3:1-2, where John says, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed , we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is." So we are figuratively "now ... children of God." But in the future we will be "revealed" as literal children of God. In order to become literally born again, to obtain a spiritual body, to obtain eternal life, one must "purify himself, even as he is pure." There is no room for compromise.
"Whoever remains in him doesn't sin." How can there be a gray area of just a little sin in this bold statement? We are in Christ when the Holy Spirit is in us.
"Whoever sins hasn't seen him, neither knows him." This brings us back to John's initial statement, that John himself spent time with Christ. John literally and physically abided with Christ. John literally and physically got to know him personally. When Christ physically left, he promised the Holy Spirit to take over this role of Counselor, Teacher, and Helper. When the Holy Spirit abides in us, we know Christ. In the Holy Spirit there is no sin. Whoever remains in the Holy Spirit does not sin. There is no gray between light and darkness. We are either in the light, or in darkness. We are either filled with the Holy Spirit, or we are not. When the Holy Spirit fills us, we cannot sin because the God cannot sin.
When we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, and when we fall back into sin, we are "of the devil". This means we belong to the devil. Belonging to the devil means you won't be reconciled with the Father. But Christ came to "destroy the works of the devil." Through faith in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit, we can live without sin. Until the time when we literally have a new spiritual body, it's possible for us to fall back into sin. During those times, we are not in the light. During those times, we want to hide in the darkness. So we do not know Christ. When we are in darkness, we are not figuratively born again. We are not filled with the Holy Spirit. So we must purify ourselves even as Christ is pure if we expect to be literally born again when Christ returns.
The Holy Spirit is not going to give us a spiritual body until we have completely purified ourselves to the point where the Holy Spirit is no longer pushed out because of sin. All the sinful habits that cause us to move into darkness can be overcome. Always be mindful of whether we are in the light or the darkness. Always remain in the light. This is Christian perfection.
1 John 3:10-17 In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn't do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn't love his brother. (11) For this is the message which you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; (12) unlike Cain, who was of the evil one, and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous. (13) Don't be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. (14) We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. He who doesn't love his brother remains in death. (15) Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. (16) By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (17) But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him ?
These verses again bring us back to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This also brings us back to the words of Jesus spoken to Peter about feeding his sheep.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that false prophets would come. They are like wolves in sheep clothing. We can know them by their fruits. We know these false prophets by observing the righteousness of their followers. John is saying the same thing. We know the children of God by the fact that they do works of righteousness. We know the children of the devil by the fact that they do works of unrighteousness. In other words, a good tree bears good fruit. The good church leader will have followers who walk in the light. The good church leader will teach against sin, and their followers will for the most part walk in the light. Those who do not accept this teaching will leave.
Jesus also spoke about anger towards one's brother. Consuming anger is the same as murder. John is saying the same thing by relating it back to Cain who murdered his brother Abel. John states that the works of Cain were evil and the works of his brother Abel were righteous. When we do the works of the Father it will result in walking in the light, which is righteousness. When we do the works of the devil we are walking in darkness, which is unrighteousness.
Works of righteousness come only out of love for our Father in heaven, and love for our neighbors. The ultimate love is being willing to lay down one's life for another. But short of that, works of love is seeing a brother in need, and having compassion for him. If we have some of the goods of this world we share them with a brother in need. This is love of our neighbor.
Peter thought he loved Jesus, but not to the point where he was able to lay down his life. Instead, Peter denied Christ three times. After the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Peter responded honestly by simply saying he had affection for Christ. So Jesus simply said, "Feed my sheep." In other words, we do the righteous works of the Father in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit all the time. This lets us live in the light all the time. After walking as Jesus walked for some time, our affection for Christ turns into true Godly love, and we will be willing to lay down our lives for Christ. This is what Jesus meant when he said that we must take up our cross and follow Him if we are to be his disciple (Luke 14:27). This is the only way to get to the point where we are really ready for Christ to return, so that we will no longer be moving into the darkness, and so that the Holy Spirit will give us spiritual born-again bodies when Christ returns.
This is not to say that works are required for salvation. Jesus paid the price for not only our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. No amount of work can earn salvation. You can't buy your resurrection. Everyone who has not deliberately and knowingly rejected Jesus will be resurrected. So they will be saved from sin and death. But that doesn't mean they will all inherit the kingdom. That doesn't mean they will all be revealed as children of God. Only those who learn to walk as Jesus walked, in the light, filled with the Holy Spirit all the time will be resurrected with a spiritual body. Instead, they will get a new natural body.
1 John 3:18-24 My little children, let's not love in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. (19) And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade our hearts before him, (20) because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. (21) Beloved, if our hearts don't condemn us, we have boldness toward God; (22) and whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. (23) This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded. (24) He who keeps his commandments remains in him, and he in him. By this we know that he remains in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.
We know that we are in Christ when we know that the Holy Spirit is in us. When the Holy Spirit is in us, we are in the light. We know when we have a pure heart. We know when our minds have pure thoughts, without lust, anger, or covetousness. We know when our motives for all that we do is solely out of love for the Father and for our neighbors. When we know this, we have a boldness toward God. And God is pleased to give us all that we ask.
Entire sanctification is reaching that point, and staying at the point, where Christ is truly the only real thing that matters in this world. Christ is everything. When Christ is everything to us, we are naturally obedient to everything the Holy Spirit tells us. When all our sinful habits have been overcome, we naturally hear Christ’s voice more clearly and we naturally take joy in doing what we know the Father wants us to do.
We learn to know when we are in darkness and when we are in the light. When we are in the light, the Holy Spirit remains in us. When we are in the light all the time, we are at peace with the Father. We are in God's Rest.
1 John 4:1-6 Beloved, don't believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, (3) and every spirit who doesn't confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God , and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already. (4) You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. (5) They are of the world. Therefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them. (6) We are of God. He who knows God listens to us. He who is not of God doesn't listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
John now returns back to the spirit of antichrist. Specifically he is referring to the false prophets of his day, which were the Gnostics. There can be spirits or demons involved. But we recognize it as religious leaders who, in very deceptive ways, speak against Christ. That's what the word "antichrist" means. It means "against Christ." And the antichrist teachers are usually unaware that what they teach is false. They honestly believe what they teach. Those who personally know them will see their honesty. But they are deceived.
The Gnostics of that day taught that the spirit of the Messiah had come upon the man named Jesus when he was baptized. So they did not believe that Christ had really come as a man in the flesh. They taught that Christ, as a spirit, came and temporarily filled the man Jesus. In other words, Christ himself is portrayed as being a spirit. They did not confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. The world is quick to believe the spirit of antichrist. But the Holy Spirit in us is greater than the spirit of antichrist which is in the world.
John makes the point that he and those who followed him are of God. As he pointed out from at the start, he was physically and literally with Jesus when Jesus was here teaching. So he testifies about God first-hand. Therefore, those who know God are those who listen to John. Those who listen to the spirit of antichrist do not listen to John. They listen to the spirit of error. This means they are willing to be deceived because they have a love for the things of this world. So they become deceived by the spirit of antichrist and then they wind up passing on that false teaching without knowing that it's false.
1 John 4:7-14 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God . (8) He who doesn't love doesn't know God , for God is love. (9) By this God's love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (10) In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (11) Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. (12) No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. (13) By this we know that we remain in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit . (14) We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world.
Jesus gave his life for us. That is God's ultimate love. Everyone who accepts this love must in turn love one another in the same way. Everyone who does so will be born of God and will inherit eternal life. But Christ's atoning sacrifice is not only for those who will be revealed as children of God. Christ's atoning sacrifice is for the whole world. The Son is the Savior of the world. Those who are perfected in love find Christian perfection. Christ is the Anointed One. When he returns, he will be the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He will reign over all the world. And we who are perfected through God's love will reign with Christ over all the nations. Then righteousness will go out to all the nations.
1 John 4:15-21 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. (16) We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. (17) In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. (18) There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. (19) We love him, because he first loved us. (20) If a man says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn't love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (21) This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother.
The confession that John speaks of in verse 15, in this context, is a confession against the spirit of antichrist which denies that Jesus is the Son of God. This confession is a continual confession. As long as we continue this confession, God remains in us. This means the Holy Spirit remains in us. Perfect love is the love of those perfected by the Holy Spirit. Perfect love casts out fear because those with perfect love are willing to give up their lives just as Christ gave his life in perfect love for us.
1 John 5:1-5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. (2) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. (3) For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. (4) For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. (5) Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
By context, the above verses about overcoming the world are talking about the spirit of antichrist that is in the world. John is talking about the Gnostics of his day. And by extension, John is talking about the continued spirit of antichrist that has existed ever since Christ came. The spirit of antichrist adopts any lie that goes against Jesus as being the Messiah who will rule the world.
The spirit of antichrist adopts any lie that says we don't have to obey Christ's commandments. The spirit of antichrist adopts any lie that says we do not have to have God's love in us for our brothers. The spirit of antichrist adopts any lie that says Jesus is not the Son of God. The spirit of antichrist adopts any lie that says we do not have to become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect in order to inherit eternal life. But those who do not listen to the world, who instead listen to the Holy Spirit, will overcome the spirit of antichrist that is in the world.
We know that John was taking about the spirit of antichrist in verses 1-5 above. That's because the verses below go back to the topic of the Gnostics, which were the antichrists of John's day.
1 John 5:6-11 This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (7) For there are three who testify : (8) the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree as one. (9) If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is God's testimony which he has testified concerning his Son. (10) He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself . He who doesn't believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. (11) The testimony is this, that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Remember that the Gnostics of John's day taught that a spirit of Christ came into Jesus at the time of his baptism. And that spirit left Christ before the crucifixion. This is why John says Jesus "came by water and blood." The Holy Spirit testified at the baptism of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit testifies to us as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The water refers to the baptism of Christ and the blood refers to the crucifixion of Christ. John states that "He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself." This is the Holy Spirit in us that testifies. By faith, we know that we have eternal life, strictly by the Son, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
1 John 5:12-15 He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn't have God's Son doesn't have the life. (13) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (14) This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. (15) And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.
Why is John concerned that we may not continue to believe? It's because the spirit of antichrist has gone out into the world. Those who know Christ, but then deny Christ, are committing the unpardonable sin.
1 John 5:16-18 If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death . I don't say that he should make a request concerning this. (17) All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. (18) We know that whoever is born of God doesn't sin, but he who was born of God keeps himself, and the evil one doesn't touch him.
John speaks of three types of people in these two verses. The wise are those who don't sin. They will inherit the kingdom and reign with Christ over the nations. They will inherit eternal life. The foolish continue to sin, but not the sin that leads to death. The wicked are those who commit the sin that leads to death.
The Wise: The wise are those who overcome the evil one. John says, "Whoever is born of God doesn't sin." They keep themselves pure. "The evil one doesn't touch him." Jesus calls these people the wise. They will be born of God and will inherit eternal life. They will inherit the kingdom and rule with Christ over the nations.
The Foolish: The sins that that do not lead to death are sins not involving the deliberate and knowledgeable rejection of Christ. John says that, "God will give him life." Some will repent and turn to Christ. But many are still sinning when they go to their graves. This includes those who profess Christ as Savior but are still sinning. God will "give them life." They will be resurrected. But they will not inherit the kingdom. They will not have eternal life. They will live in the nations. Jesus calls these people the foolish.
The Wicked: The sin that leads to death is having really known Jesus, perhaps through the power of the Holy Spirit, and then rejecting Jesus. It's the same as those who saw the miracles of Jesus, and thus knew that Jesus is the Messiah, but they still rejected Jesus and said the miracles of the Holy Spirit were from Beelzebub. These would include the Gnostics of John’s day and those who take the mark of the beast (antichrist) when Christ appears.
Matthew 12:30-32 "He who is not with me is against me, and he who doesn't gather with me, scatters. (31) Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men , but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. (32) Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is to come.
Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV For it is impossible , in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) and then have fallen away , to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Jesus died for everyone. But those who reject Christ in this way forfeit their salvation. They will not be resurrected. During the great tribulation, those who take the mark of the beast are committing this unpardonable sin. This is a "sin that leads to death." They will not be resurrected. For those who commit this sin during Christ's millennial reign, there is the second death, of which John speaks about in Revelation.
The primary goal of the spirit of antichrist is to get people to deny Christ. Even the word "antichrist" means 'against Christ.' For those who teach Gnostic or Islamic teachings, there is the danger of committing the unpardonable sin. But God turns sinners over to the blindness of their sins. Their sins are not the unpardonable sin leading to death. So we should pray for them. But if Christ is rejected by people who really know the truth, the sin is unpardonable. That sin leads to death. This is the goal of the evil one.
1 John 5:19-21 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (20) We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding , that we 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. (21) Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
"The whole world lies in the power of the evil one." This will be especially true when Islam becomes the religion of the end-time one-world government, ruled by the antichrist. Islam denies that Jesus is the Son of God. Islam denies that Christ died for our sins. In Islam, belief in either of these truths is the greatest of all sins. After Christ returns at the start of the seven years, those who embrace these lies will take the mark of the beast, and will forfeit their salvation.
In Revelation 13:14-18, John tells us the world will make an image of the beast, and that the image will have the breath to speak. All the world will be forced to worship this idol or be killed. Perhaps this is why John concludes his letter with "Little children, keep yourself from idols."