In verses 16-17, the Elder spoke of a sin that does not lead to death, which is sin com mitted by a believer. Again, a believer is by definition not in the realm of death and therefore such sin does not lead to death. The believer does not dwell in the arena that is characterized by sinning, for that realm lies in the grip of the evil one (v. 18). Since believers do not live in the realm of what is evil and false, and so are not held by the power of sin, the Elder can write, We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin. Rather the believer is kept safe, unharmed by the deception and temptations of the evil one.
The statement the one born of God does not continue to sin does not mean that the believer has attained some superior moral status or achieved perfection. Rather, because they are born of God, believers are characterized not by sin and death but by truth and life. Being born of God does not grant one a capacity to overcome sin. Rather born of God is virtually an equivalent phrase for "does not sin." For born of God points to a divine action on our behalf that transfers us to the sphere where the future realities of eternal life are already lived out, even if only in part. Purity from sin is just such a future expectation now appropriated by believers through trusting in Christ (compare 3:4-10).
Thus in verses 18-19 John's dualistic description of reality comes once again into view. The one who was born of God keeps him safe says positively what and the evil one cannot harm him formulates in a neg ative fashion. We are children of God contrasts with and the whole world is under the control of the evil one. What the children of God have is the assurance that they are held in God's hand, and that "no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (Jn 10:28; 17:3, 5). Touch means to touch so as to harm (see Job 2:5; Ps 105:15; Zech 2:8). God's children have the assurance that they are guarded and kept by the power of God. They are not immune to temptation nor free from sin. But they are not in the hands of an arbitrary God who on a whim may desert them, nor will they fall under the control of the evil one. Those who are truly children of God cannot lose the life they have in God.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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