TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 1 John and the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved
- Historical Perspective
- Born Again Christians exhorted to continue in the faith in order to be saved
- How “Once Saved Always Saved” misinterprets 1 John 3:9?
- The Ambiguity of the first letter of John
1 John and the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved
In this post, we want to tackle the first letter of the apostle John from the perspective of the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved.
Before we go into it, I just want to say something about the study of a book in the Bible. For each book/epistle, there are always two perspectives from which to look at it: one historical and the other existential.
The historical perspective puts the book in its historical context. In other words, the apostle John didn’t write the letter to us now and he didn’t necessarily know that his letter will end up being part of the Bible we have. He had a reason to write it at the time, it is a true letter with a specific purpose. So we have to ask ourselves when it was written, to whom he wrote it and above all why he wrote it. This is the historical perspective.
Then we have the existential perspective. This point of view looks at the reason why God has left it for us in the Holy Bible. What is in it for us as Christians living in the world of today? Both these perspectives are important.
Now, if we look at the historical perspective, we can start with when and why the letter was written.
When and why was the letter written?
We know that, as the Lord Jesus predicted, the beloved disciple John is the only one who lived to old age. His gospel and his three letters are written towards the end of the first century, well after the other gospels and epistles. This is important because there is a historical context that the epistle fits into. This will give us a clue as to why the letter was written and to whom from a historical perspective.
At the time, docetism (a branch of Gnosticism) had expanded and believed in the idea that Jesus only appeared in a body and that he seemed to be human. That sets the context as to why the first epistle of John was written. We can see that at the beginning of the epistle:
1 John 1:1-2
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us
We see the emphasis John is putting on the fact that Jesus came as a human. They have heard Him, seen Him and touched Him. In other words, John is tackling docetism and wants His readers to understand that Jesus was truly alive in the flesh, both fully God and fully man. This is taken up in chapter 2 where John talks about the Antichrists. In chapter 2, John introduces the Antichrists and suddenly we see John using “they”, “you” and “us”. This “they” is the Antichrists who were trying to spread their lie about Jesus not really coming in the flesh.
Who was John writing to?
Now as to Whom the letter was written to. The answer is obvious and is spread all over the letter. It is addressed to born-again believers. Why do I say this? Because John is pretty clear. Look at these verses:
1 John 2:12-14
12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.
13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
We see that John is writing unto whom he calls little children, young men and fathers. John was of old age when he wrote this letter, giving it a grandfatherly feel. Little children are new born-again Christians, while young men are more mature Christians with the Word of God in them (scriptures) and some experience in overcoming the wicked one. Fathers are even more advanced. They know Jesus as Eternal Son and Christ, Him that is from the beginning.
So the letter is directed to true born-again believers to say the least.
This is also confirmed in verse 13 of chapter 5:
1 John 5:13
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
John is saying that he is writing to born-again Christians who already believe in the Son, so they may know that they have eternal life (eternal life is in the Son verse 12), and that they continue believing in Him.
Born Again Christians exhorted to continue in the faith in order to be saved
In chapter 2, the apostle John warns the little children (recent converts) not to be deceived by “they”, the Antichrists.
Here is the specific passage with additional comments:
1 John 2:18-28
18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (It is clear therefore that “they”, the Antichrists, are not part of “us”, the true believers).
20 But ye (who is this ye? The little children) have an unction from the Holy One (how can we say that they are not born again when they have the unction from the Holy One?), and ye know all things (Jesus says the Spirit guides into all truth).
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? (Here is the truth that John wants the little children to preserve). He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
24 Let that (That what? That truth that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God) therefore abide (notice that it is up to them to let the truth abide in them) in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning (same truth) shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son (notice they will continue in the Son if the truth abides in them. This means they were already in the Son. Do you see this?), and in the Father.
25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us (who is this us? John is including himself as a believer among the little children who are also believers. This “us” represents the ones who let the truth abide in them and who continue in the Son verse 24), even eternal life.
26 These things have I written unto you concerning them (the Antichrists) that seduce you.
27 But the anointing (the anointing of the Spirit) which ye have received of him abideth in you (so you see that these little children have already received the Spirit), and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth (so this same anointing is truth. The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth), and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
28 And now, little children, abide in him (John addresses them again and telling them to abide in Him, in the Spirit of Christ); that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed (why would they be ashamed? because they did not abide in Him) before him at his coming.
In summary, John is saying to believers who have the unction of the Holy One:
- to let the Truth abide in them (the truth which the Antichrists are denying) so that they continue in the Son
- if the Truth abides in them, they will receive the promise of eternal life
- this truth is given to them by the anointing they received from God
- to abide in the truth, so that they are not ashamed at His coming.
Notice how all this fits with 1 John 5:13 I mentioned above. It is clear that John is saying to these believers who already have the Truth to let that truth remain in them so that they continue in the Son and be saved. Why that exhortation if they are already saved?
How “Once Saved Always Saved” misinterprets 1 John 3:9?
Now jumping to 1 John 3:9, we have to be clear about something. If 1 John 3:9 is taken out of context, then yes, it seems to mean exactly that if one is born of God, he cannot keep sinning and cannot sin. But that is what taking verses out of context does and that is what no one should do.
1 John 3:9 – Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God
I mean John is literally saying that a born-again Christian cannot sin (not will not sin). So, if this verse is taken out of context, it will necessarily mean that born-again Christians will NEVER EVER SIN. But that cannot be the case because, in chapter 2, John says:
1 John 2:1 – My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Is John contradicting himself?
So obviously a born-again Christian can sin. Now you may say 1 John 3:9 is talking about practising a lifestyle of sin (walking in sin). Well I agree, but that also applies to born again ABIDING Christians. If we check three verses back, John says (verse 6):
1 John 3:6 – Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: (basically John is designating born again ABIDING Christians. Who is doing the abiding? It is the subject “whoever”) whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (to KNOW Him is much more than being born again. To be spiritually reborn is to START knowing Him. Then, we have to grow into the Knowledge of truth).
This means that this “whoever” in verse 9 is the same “whoever” in verse 6, let’s check verse 9 again:
1 John 3:9 – Whosoever is born of God (and abiding verse 6) doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him (it remains in him because he is also an abiding Christian): and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
So what I mean is this, 1 John 3:9 out of context may seem like it is saying that we only need to be born again to be saved. However, in context, John means implicitly born again abiding Christians. The abiding is implicit in that verse as shown from verse 6 before it. In other words, the apostle John is saying that those who are born again and abiding in the Spirit cannot sin. This also is confirmed by Paul who says:
Galatians 5:16 –This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh
Saying “whoever is born of God does not commit sin” does not mean that this “whoever” will not be abiding in the Son. John is supposing that these born again Christians are willingly abiding in the Son.
The Ambiguity of the first letter of John
The letter of 1 John has left some scholars perplexed because of supposed contradictions. In some places, John says that a Christian cannot sin. In others, he says that if they sin, they have an advocate with the Father. He says that if we have no sin, we are liars. He also distinguishes between a brother who sins not unto death and another, unto death. These passages seem confusing at first but let’s not forget John’s background. He was a Jewish fisherman with a circular reasoning. He starts with a subject, goes to another one, and comes back to the first. and on and on. James’ epistle has similar style. In other words, the same concept or subject ends up being mentioned in many different places in the same book. In contrast, Paul was a highly educated lawyer with a constructive logic and linear reasoning.
Therefore, to properly understand John’s letters, we have to gather all the verses on a specific subject in the same book to get to the truth about that subject.
One thing is for sure, we cannot base the whole doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved on one verse 1 John 3:9. We have to see it in the light of the other verses pertaining to sinning after Spiritual birth.