Practicing Righteousness

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” (1 John 3:10).

- 1 John 3:9–10

One of the more prominent ideas found in both the Gospel and the epistles of John is the idea of parentage. We can see an example of this in John 8:39–59, where Jesus confronts the Pharisees regarding His teaching. These Pharisees rejected Jesus, claiming to be sons of Abraham and thus sons of God. However, Jesus tells them that because they reject Him with lies and murderous intent, they are not sons of Abraham at all, and thus not sons of God. In rejecting Jesus, the Pharisees revealed themselves to be sons of the Devil (v. 44).

In today’s passage, John closes his lengthy section on the importance of personal righteousness and again uses the language of fathers and sons. We read in 1 John 3:10 that children of God practice righteousness, and those who do not are children of the Devil.

As we have noted before, just as there is a resemblance between children and their father in earthly families, so too will there be a resemblance between children and their father in the spiritual family. If God is truly our Father we will not make a practice of sinning (v. 9).

We may forget who we are and sin, but our lives will not be dominated by unrighteousness if we are in Christ. This does not mean that we will not face particular temptations or even have sins that beset us at times. It does not mean we will be conformed perfectly to Christ in this life, for not until we see Him will we be like Him (v. 2). Still, we must recognize that John is teaching us that the life to come can be lived now. Sin will not define the life of the believer; on the whole, we will walk in the light, not in the darkness (1:5–6).

Moreover, believers will not persist in unrighteousness because God’s seed dwells within them (3:9). It is unclear whether this seed refers to the word of the Gospel or the Holy Spirit, although strictly speaking the two cannot be separated. Whatever the case, when God calls a person to Himself, He transforms his very nature so that he will be able to love and practice righteousness. In the new birth, we have been given everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and by His grace this godliness will become more and more evident as we progress in our sanctification.

Coram Deo

The distinction John makes between children of God and children of the Devil denies any naive assertion that all people have God as their Father. Only those who are in Christ by faith and therefore submit to Him as Lord have God as their Father. Anyone who gleefully indulges in sin or takes it too lightly has no right to call God Father. Spend some time today meditating on the holiness of God and the righteousness of Christ so that you may not take sin lightly.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 18:20–27
Isa. 32:1–8
Heb. 10:26–27
1 Peter 1:17–19

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