In several places, such as I John 2:29; 3:3; 3:9-14; and 5:1-4, John expressly states what the responsibilities of a converted person are. In these verses, the work of keeping the commandments is plainly shown.
The application of Paul's statement in Ephesians 2:10 is becoming ever clearer. He writes that we are indeed saved by grace through faith. However, he adds, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Sanctification is a process involving a period of intense work: walking in love, keeping the commandments, and overcoming sin and the world, as John's first epistle clearly stipulates. This process within a relationship with the Father and Son brings us to completion.
Sanctification does not consist only of a lot of talk about religion. Nor does it consist only of spending large amounts of time studying the Bible and commentaries. As helpful as these might be, God also calls for a great deal of action. The apostle John again supplies helpful exhortation: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:18). It could not be stated more clearly that the love of God is an action. Further, Jesus exhorts all His disciples, "If you love Me keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "Keeping" indicates consistent effort to obey as a means of expressing our love, loyalty, and submission to Him.
Paul writes in Romans 5:5, "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us." The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is essential to salvation, and God gives it to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Paul says in Romans 8:9, "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." God gives His Holy Spirit for the very purpose of making one His child. It also allows one to witness on His behalf, to produce the fruit of the spirit in preparation for His Kingdom, and to glorify Him.
Jesus says in John 15:8, "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." Sanctification is the period of our converted lives when God expects us to provide evidence that we are indeed His converted children. In fact, the fruit produced by our works, themselves enabled by God, are the evidence of our conversion. Some things in life are absolute certainties: Where the fruit of the labors of conversion are, there the Spirit of God will be found. Where those fruits are absent, the people are spiritually dead before God—they lack the life of the Spirit. Put another way, where there is no holy living, there is no Holy Spirit.
The works of sanctification are the only sure sign that one has been called of God and imbued with His Spirit. Notice something Peter writes on this: "[Christians are] elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:2). Paul adds in II Thessalonians 2:13, "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth."
He also writes in Ephesians 1:4, ". . . just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." When Paul saw the Ephesians' attitudes, their manner of life, and the evidence of their conversion, he knew they were part of the elect of God. He could thus honestly write to them with glowing praise. Many more similar verses could be added to these.
Out of ignorance, weakness, or lack of understanding, a person may break some of God's commands. However, anyone who boasts of being one of God's elect while willfully living in sin is only deceiving himself—and his claim may very well be wicked blasphemy.
Thus, because of the works that are performed during sanctification, it will always be a visible condition. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:18-20: "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
Sometime in the past, one may have heard that "cannot sin" applies to Christians when resurrected as spirit beings. This is probably not correct because the whole context of the passage involves the here and now—today, during our physical lives. John is describing a situation in which we have opportunities to sin or not.
"Cannot sin" does not mean that it is impossible for us to sin, but rather, it is an act that we will not permit ourselves to do. Many of us have likely said to a child, "You can't do that!" Yes, they could do it, but we have determined that it is totally unadvisable. This is the gist of John's meaning: A person who is born of God is unable to sin habitually.
Why? Because of the divine nature being within him! This does not mean that he will not slip or that he will not even sin willingly and willfully from time to time, knowing full well what he is getting into. There is still weakness in human flesh. However, the converted person will repent and fight the weakness tooth and toenail. He will not live in sin! God will not abide in sin, and if His Spirit is within us, and we choose to continue in sin, then He will withdraw His Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eight)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 John 3:9:
1 John 2:29
1 John 3:3
1 John 3:9-14
1 John 3:22
1 John 5:1-4