1 John 3:4-10 The Marks of a Life Born of God (Rev. Erik Veerman)
1 John 3:4-10
Rev. Erik Veerman
The Marks of a Life Born of God
Our sermon text for this morning is 1 John 3:4-10. You can find that on page 1211 in the church
Bibles. And let me say, if you don’t have a Bible of your own, please take one. We’d love for you
to have a copy of God’s Word to read and study.
1 John 3:4-10 is a continuation from last week. We focused on the amazing truth that those born
of God, who know and have faith in Christ, are his children. He is your loving Father. You are
his beloved child. It comes with blessings now and the promise of blessings forever.
These verses continue the theme of being a child of God. You’ll hear some of the same words,
like being born of God and being his child. The apostle John answers the question, what is the
identifying characteristic of a child of God? And he contrasts that with the identifying
characteristic of a child of the devil.
Let’s now turn our attention to God’s Word. Stand. (I know we have multiple Scripture readings
in our service). We stand for the sermon text as a representation of our reverence for God’s
Hear now God’s Holy Word. Eternal. Perfect. Inspired. Sufficient and given for us.
I’m going to start with 1 John 3 verse 3 – to bridge the reading from last week.
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Jeffry Dahmer, Mao Sedong, Nero. Even the reading of those names
likely evokes in you a righteous anger. And it should. The atrocities they each committed are the
epitome of evil. Even people who do not believe in God, use the word hell to describe their
eternal destiny. And we would agree. We would say they were children of the devil – deceived
by Satan in the most unbridled way.
And, of course, there’s the other side - the likes of Mother Theresa. Now, I don’t know her heart,
but from what I’ve heard and read, she appears to have had a genuine faith in Christ. Assuming
that is so, she was a child of God – and when Christ returns, she’ll be with him in glory. And her
faith in Christ was the source of her humble heart of service.
So, two extremes – evil personified (children of the devil), and righteousness personified (a child
But what about the rest of the world? What about everyone else not on either extreme? Is there
a third category of people? Not a child of God, but also not a child of the devil?
That is a hard question but with a clear answer.
These verses give us that clear answer. John tells us here that there are two kinds of people in
the world, children of God in Christ, and children of the devil. Or let me say it this way, people
redeemed by Christ, and people who need the redemption found only in Christ. There is no third
category. And that is a hard truth. But remember that the offer of the Gospel is for all. As we
continue on in 1 John, we’ll see that the apostle writes a lot about God’s love, which is manifest
in his Son.
But in this morning text, John is focusing on the two categories of people, children of God and
children of the devil. He gives us the identifying characteristics of each, which revolve around
either a pattern of sin or a patterns of righteousness in one’s life.
And I should say, this is a really important Biblical text when it comes to understanding sin and
righteousness. Take your bulletin and flip to the back. I included a longer outline today because
if your mind wanders off or if you fall asleep for a little bit, and therefore miss the argument, you
could misunderstand the point of the passage.
So let me walk you through the outline. I think you will find it helpful.
• We’re going to start out with a reminder about sin, and some of the reasons why John
wrote his letter.
• The main two points this morning are about the two categories of people
• First, Lawless living displays a lawlessness from the lawless one (1 John 3:4, 8, 10b)
• And second, righteous living displays a righteousness from the Righteous One (1 John
3:5-7, 9, 10a)
The heart of each of those categories is not the external pattern of sin or righteousness. Rather
the heart of those two categories is where the righteousness or sinfulness originates. The
external display merely reveals of whom we are born, either God or the devil.
And that is the hard consideration. Hang in there with me, because when we get to the second
category and consider the righteousness of God in Christ and our righteousness in him – it is a
blessed truth upon which we can rest and live.
So, that is where we are headed.
And let me begin by defining sin. In fact, we don’t really have to look outside of these words to
define it. In verse 4, John writes that “sin is lawlessness.” Sin is breaking God’s law, in any way.
God’s law as given to us in his Word, which is also written on our hearts. Sin is both what we do
or say or think which breaks God’s law, and sin is also what we do not do or say or think, where
we are failing to obey God’s law. So, what we do which we shouldn’t do and what we should do
which we don’t do.
Now, when reading this passage, you may be tempted to think that God is calling us to be
perfect. It says, after all in verse 6, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning.” On the
surface, it sure sounds like John is saying that a true Christian no longer sins. But that cannot
be, in any way, what John is saying. Let me give you two reasons why.
• First, in chapter 1, verse 8, John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” John has already made clear that a believer still has sin
present in his or her life. So, he can not be saying here, two chapters later, that a Christian does
• Second, the language in these verses is about the pattern of sin or righteousness in your
life. Multiple times it uses the word “practice.” In your life, are you making an effort to “practice
righteousness” or rather, does your life display a “practice of sinning” or you “keep on sinning.”
So, in other words, Christians still sin, but are called to righteousness and enabled to pursue
righteousness. We’ll get into that more later.
But we have to ask the question Why is John writing this? I want you to note verse 7. He says,
“let no one deceive you.” That’s a clear indication that John was writing to counteract false
teaching. We’ve talked about false teaching a lot. Different kinds of false teaching. But
specifically related to these verses, there were two false beliefs being taught:
• First was the belief that it was not possible to sin in the flesh. I’ve brought up Gnosticism
before. I know that is a big word. John’s church was dealing with an early version of Gnosticism.
That false teaching basically saw all matter including our bodies as totally corrupted. Therefore,
Gnostics eliminated the category of sin in the body altogether. Only the mind or immortality
mattered. So, you could do whatever you wanted in your body and you were not sinning –
according to this false teaching. The very reason that the apostle John uses the word
“lawlessness” in these verses is to reject that thinking. Breaking God’s law in the flesh is sin. So,
that’s the first false belief that had entered the church – that sin wasn’t really a category when it
came to our actions.
• Second, was the opposite end of the spectrum! Some were teaching that it didn’t matter
if you sinned, because God forgave you. We sometimes call that thinking cheap grace. It’s the
reason we read part of Romans chapter 6. The false thinking is that the more I sin, the more I
receive God’s grace. So, therefore, sin boldly. But that mindset has also been rejected over and
over in 1 John. We’ve read about walking in the light, pursuing obedience to God’s word, and
To summarize, John was writing to correct false teaching about sin and righteousness. Sin is
real, is still present in the believer, but the one born of God is able to practice righteousness and
put away sinful patterns in his or her life.
And that brings us, now, to the main point of these verses. The differences between one who is
a child of God and one who is a child of the devil.
1. Lawless living displays a lawlessness from the lawless one (1 John 3:4, 8, 10b)
So, first, a child of the devil. I’m putting it this way: “Lawless living displays a lawlessness from
the lawless one.” John is really clear about the source of lawlessness. It’s from the devil, Satan,
and goes all the way back to the beginning. He says that “the devil has been sinning from the
beginning.” Verse 8.
And he’s referring to Genesis 3. God had created heavens and the earth with all the goodness
of his nature as good. And God created Adam and Eve reflecting his goodness and created in
They had access to all of God’s good creation. God gave Adam and Eve responsibilities over
his creation. But there was just one thing. There was just one command, one prohibition that
God gave them. It was to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All the rest of
God’s creation was theirs. They could prosper and flourish in that good creation.
But Satan came along. And he attacked the very command of God. You see, he was a
lawbreaker and a liar. He said to Eve, “did God really say?” He questioned God’s command and
told them to eat of the forbidden tree. He lied to them and told them to break God’s law.
In the apostle John’s Gospel account, chapter 8, Jesus said these words to the pharisees. “You
are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from
the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies,
he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The devil utterly opposes Christ and rejects God’s law. He is the complete opposite of Jesus.
He desires to propagate sin by lying about the truth and rejecting God and his Gospel.
Everything about the devil is opposed to God’s law. He is the father of lies, as Jesus said.
Someone who “practices sinning” (that’s what it says) indicates that they are a child of him, the
And the million-dollar question is: What does it mean to practice sinning?
Let me try and answer that.
To “make a practice of sinning” means there’s no conviction of sin in that person’s life. They
may even reject the concept of sin, or they may talk about sin, but display no repentance over
sin. Someone who says they believe in God and perhaps even in Jesus, yet persistently violates
God’s law without any fruit of repentance is making a practice of sinning.
In addition, someone who rejects God or rejects God’s Word or rejects God’s Son or rejects
God’s law, is practicing sinning through their disbelief. They may do good things, be kind to
others, but if they reject God by denying him or rejecting Jesus, or salvation in him, then they
are practicing sinning. I’m not dismissing common grace goodness in the world, but common
grace goodness does not indicate whether you are a child of God or a child of the devil.
There’s another related phrase here. It’s in verse 10: “whoever does not practice righteousness
is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” It’s the flip side of the same coin.
Violating God’s law happens not only when you actively break it, but also when you do not seek
to practice it. That means no interest in growing in holiness or striving to know God’s Word in
order to glorify God and keep his law.
Yes, being a son of the devil is tragically displayed in the likes of Stalin or Hitler, but anyone
who denies or rejects God in Christ or whose life demonstrates a willful pattern of sin without
Godly remorse or who reject the pursuit of righteousness is of the devil. Their lawlessness is the
lawlessness of Satan.
And it’s really important to recognize, that if you and me were left to our own devices, left to our
own will, left in our sin, we would all be children of the devil. All of us. No one would have any
But thanks be to God! He did not leave us without an escape from sin and death. He didn’t
leave us to be bound by Satan. No, look down at the second half of verse 8 – “The reason the
Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” You are not bound to be a son of
the devil. No, through Christ, you can become a child of God.
2. Righteous living displays a righteousness from the Righteous One (1 John 3:5-7, 9, 10a)
That brings us to the second category of people identified in these verses – children of God.
The question is, what is the identifying characteristic of a child of God? This is point number 2:
their righteous living displays a righteousness from the Righteous One. I know that’s a lot of
uses of the word “righteousness” in there. But look at verse 7. The second half of verses 7
“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” A display of righteousness in
someone’s life, indicates a righteousness that he or she has, which comes from the Righteous
One. Because he, that is Jesus, is righteous.
Last week, I defined righteousness, but let me do that again because of its prominence in these
verses. Righteousness is to be right or just in God’s eyes. So, to practice righteousness is to
pursue what is good and right and true according to God’s standard of what is good and right
It all begins with and is founded on the righteousness of Christ.
You see, Jesus is the standard of righteousness. Everything about Jesus opposes sin and
unbelief. In him is the full righteousness of God. Verse 5 captures that. “He appeared in order to
take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Jesus is the opposite of the lawless one. He has no
sin. He kept all of God’s law, every part of it, perfectly. He is therefore the Righteous One, the
perfect Righteous One.
And children of God have his righteousness. Children of God have been given his
If you are a child of God, you are righteous in Christ. God sees you as righteous in his sight.
That idea is all throughout the New Testament.
• For example, Philippians 3:9. It speaks of being found in Christ, “…not having a
righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
• Or take 1 Corinthians 1:30. It says by God’s doing, “you are in Christ Jesus, who
became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption”
• 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God “made Him [that is, Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin
for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Beloved of God, you are not just or righteous before God because of anything in yourself. You
cannot keep the law to become righteous. That is not possible. Rather, you, as a child of God,
are righteous because of Christ’s righteousness, which you receive by faith.
To boil it down. Jesus is perfectly righteous. If you believe in him by faith, you are righteous in
Therefore… and this is the big point of these verses. Therefore, the identifying characteristic of
a child of God is displaying his righteousness in your life.
Think about this. If God sent his Son to defeat sin, then why would he be anything but opposed
to sin in your life. That’s not to say you don’t receive grace when you sin, but in Christ, you are
enabled to pursue righteousness. And that pursuit testifies to having Christ’s righteousness as a
child of God.
Have you heard the expression before: “Like father, like son?” or perhaps “He’s a chip off the
old block” or maybe “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Those expressions all capture the
same idea. When you see a son who has a similar character trait as his father, well then “like
father like son.” You can tell whose father the son is. Well, that same idea applies here. A son or
daughter of God the Father, will live like a son or daughter of God the Father.
In Verse 9, the apostle put it this way: “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.” If
you are a child of God, born of him, God will give you a heart to pursue him and his
righteousness and God will enable you to practice that righteousness.
Practicing righteousness means, first of all, that you believe and know Jesus, and you desire to
pursue God’s commands. And when you sin, you feel convicted and repentant of that sin. We
each have temptations and sin, but the testimony of being a child of God is your Godly sorrow
for your sin and your demonstrated desire to pursue righteousness.
A child of God will not be marked by a pattern of sin but instead by a pattern of righteousness.
Let me acknowledge one more thing. It can be really hard when there’s a sin in your life that is a
constant struggle. Even though you grieve and repent of it in an ongoing way, you can often feel
defeated. Or you can read these verses and question your faith. And that is the last thing that
John wants you to do. Your grief and Godly sorrow testify to being a child of God. You are his.
He is yours.
But what should you do when sin comes knocking at your door, or you have been overcome by
its temptation? Yes, you should repent of it and grieve over it. That displays your heart. But you
should also drive yourself to Christ.
It’s very tempting to rely on your own strength when faced with sin. To try to overcome your sin
by your power. But beloved, we are called, not to rely on our strength but to abide in him. That’s
in verses 6 and 9. Abiding in him means drawing your strength from his strength. It means
drawing on the source of his grace, the cross and resurrection. So, Run to him, know that your
sin has been defeated. Remind yourself that you have been ingrafting into the vine. You have
his Holy Spirit and His Word, and you have his people. Abiding in him is abiding in all that is his,
which is yours.
And, of course, Abiding in God is not just for those times of struggle, but for all your righteous
pursuits, as well. In all of it, we should go to him, go to Jesus, knowing of his righteousness and
his truth for us, as his children.
In summary, righteous living displays a righteousness from the Righteous One. A heart that
knows God in Christ, has his righteousness. And when God is your Father – “like Father, like
son.” He enables you to be like him and practice righteousness, abiding in him.
In contrast, lawless living displays a lawlessness from the lawless one. A heart that rejects God,
His Son or his law, displays the lawlessness and sin of the devil.
There are only two paths, two lives, two destinations. Everyone is in one of two categories,
either a child of God or a child of the devil. And the only way to escape from having the devil as
your father is to become born of God… born through the Gospel of God’s Son.
May we each be a child of God, knowing the Righteous One and demonstrating his
righteousness in our lives as we abide in him.