3:3-8 Anyone who rests this hope on him purifies himself as he is pure. Anyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that he appeared that he might take away our sins and there is no sin in him. Anyone who abides in him does not sin. Anyone who sins has not seen him, and does not know him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who does sin is of the devil, because the devil is a sinner from the beginning. The purpose for which the Son of God appeared was that he might destroy the works of the devil.
John has just said that the Christian is on the way to seeing God and being like him. There is nothing like a great aim for helping a man to resist temptation. A novelist draws the picture of a young man who always refused to share in the lower pleasures to which his comrades often invited and even urged him. His explanation was that some day something fine was going to come to him, and he must keep himself ready for it. The man who knows that God is at the end of the road will make all life a preparation to meet him.
This passage is directed against the Gnostic false teachers. As we have seen they produced more than one reason to justify sin. They said that the body was evil and that, therefore, there was no harm in sating its lusts, because what happened to it was of no importance. They said that the truly spiritual man was so armoured with the Spirit that he could sin to his heart's content and take no harm from it. They even said that the true Gnostic was under obligation both to scale the heights and to plumb the depths so that he might be truly said to know all things. Behind John's answer there is a kind of analysis of sin.
He begins by insisting that no one is superior to the moral law. No one can say that it is quite safe for him to allow himself certain things, although they may be dangerous for others. As A. E. Brooke puts it: "The test of progress is obedience." Progress does not confer the privilege to sin; the further on a man is the more disciplined a character he will be. John goes on to imply certain basic truths about sin.
(i) He tells us what sin is. It is the deliberate breaking of a law which a man well knows. Sin is to obey oneself rather than to obey God.
(ii) He tells us what sin does. It undoes the work of Christ. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world ( John 1:29 ). To sin is to bring back what he came into the world to abolish.
(iii) He tells us why sin is. It comes from the failure to abide in Christ. We need not think that this is a truth only for advanced mystics. It simply means this--so long as we remember the continual presence of Jesus, we will not sin; it is when we forget that presence that we sin.
(iv) He tells us whence sin comes. It comes from the devil; and the devil is he who sins, as it were, on principle. That probably is the meaning of the phrase from the beginning ( 1 John 3:8 ). We sin for the pleasure that we think it will bring to us; the devil sins as a matter of principle. The New Testament does not try to explain the devil and his origin; but it is quite convinced--and it is a fact of universal experience that in the world there is a power hostile to God; and to sin is to obey that power instead of God.
(v) He tells us how sin is conquered. It is conquered because Jesus Christ destroyed the works of the devil. The New Testament often dwells on the Christ who faced and conquered the powers of evil ( Matthew 12:25-29 ; Luke 10:18 ; Colossians 2:15 ; 1 Peter 3:22 ; John 12:31 ). He has broken the power of evil, and by his help that same victory can be ours.