This week our passage focuses on the differences between those who are “of the devil,” and those who are “born of God.” These differences highlight the evidence of who is who by the practices of each: those who are of the devil make a practice of sinning, and those who are born of God practice righteousness. John repeats the idea of “making a practice” to emphasis that he is not speaking of one who occasionally sins or does right, but of a pattern of life which is evidence of the condition of one’s heart. As we have already seen in this epistle, believers will sin, but it is not the defining characteristic of their lives. The defining characteristic of a believer’s life is that she has been born of God, and when the child of God sins, she may confess her sins, and our Father is righteous and just to forgive and cleanse!
And, speaking of God’s forgiveness, those who practice a lifestyle of unrighteousness and are therefore evidently children of the devil are not necessarily sealed in that relationship forever. For all who believe were once in that same situation; at one time we were all dead in our sins, followers of the devil, and children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). But, as our passage states plainly, the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. We who now believe have already been freed from the shackles of sin and unbelief. If we have thus been set free by the freely-given grace of God in Christ, others who are still in bondage may also be set free. So as you rehearse this passage, repeat these words with humility and gratitude to our Father, who so loved us that he sent his only Son to die for us, and for all whom he has called to believe.
Full disclosure: this week’s passage was really difficult for me. Whether it was the changes to my routine because of the week of travel, or something about the passage, I don’t know. I needed many more repetitions to finally get it (and I still wobble through). There are repetitions of “whoever,” “practice,” “make a practice,” “sinning,” “righteousness,” and being “of the devil,” or being one “born of God.” Even though the verses are all connected and there is a flow of thought, I finally had to learn each as a single unit. For the transition from last week to this, verse 6 was about those who “keep on sinning,” and verse 7 is all about the contrasting one who “practices righteousness.” John is all about the contrasts. And this week he is all about the children: “little children,” “the Son of God,” those who are “born of God,” “children of God,” and “children of the devil.”
Now, to the memory aids.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever
practices righteousness is righteous, as he is
Little children– children may be easily deceived, so- let no one deceive you. And here’s what we must not be deceived about: Whoever practices righteousness is righteous– what kind of righteousness? Genuine righteousness- as he is righteous.
8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the
devil, for the devil has been sinning from the
beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared
was to destroy the works of the devil.
In a direct contrast to whoever practices righteousness, we now flip to Whoever makes a practice of sinning, and introduce the fact that these are of the devil. And why are they of the devil? —for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But we take comfort in knowing that—The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning,
for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep
on sinning, because he has been born of God.
One way in which Jesus destroyed the devil’s works is by the new birth of believers, so (and we will travel full circle here)—No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, (why?) for God’s seed abides in him; (which means) and he cannot keep on sinning, (why??) because he has been born of God (aaand we’re back to the beginning).
10 By this it is evident who are the children of God,
and who are the children of the devil: whoever
does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor
is the one who does not love his brother.
Now, to the evidence: By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: (the negative evidence) whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. Righteousness and love, two of John’s marks of true faith.
11 For this is the message that you have heard
from the beginning, that we should love one
Love is a mark of true faith and it has been preached from the beginning. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
I do hope that this has been helpful. And if not, just straight-up repetition may be the answer, I know it was for me. The simple discipline of repeating it over and over, photographing the words with my eyes, counting on my fingers the verses as I went through, flipping from positive to negative, from children of God to children of the devil. John is so certain that we can know these things. He is certain because the Holy Spirit inspired his writing. May the Holy Spirit help you to hide this in your hearts.