1 John 5:18
We know that whoever is born of God sins not; but he that is begotten of God keeps himself, and that wicked one touches him not.
John closes his letter with a series of triumphant certainties, which he considers as certified to every Christian by his own experience. "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not...we know that we are of God...and we know that the Son of God is come."
I. WHO IS THE APOSTLE TALKING ABOUT HERE? "We know that whosoever is born of God" — or, as the Revised Version reads it, "begotten of God" — "sinneth not." This new birth, and the new Divine life which is its result, co-exists along with the old nature in which it is planted, and which it has to coerce and subdue, sometimes to crucify, and always to govern. This apostle puts great emphasis upon that idea of advancement in the Divine life. So the new life has to grow — grow in its own strength, grow in its own sphere of influence, grow in the power with which it purges and hallows the old nature in the midst of which it is implanted. And growth is not the only word for its development. That new life has to fight for its life. There must be effort, in order that it may rule. Thus we have the necessary foundation laid for that which characterises the Christian life, from the beginning to the end, that it is a working out of that which is implanted, a working out, with ever-widening area of influence, and a working in with ever deeper and more thorough power of transforming the character. There may be indefinite approximation to the entire suppression and sanctification of the old man; and whatsoever is born of God manifests its Divine kindred in this, that sooner or later it overcomes the world. Now if all this is true, I come to a very plain answer to the first question that I raised: Who is it that John is speaking about? "Whosoever is born of God" is the Christian man, in so far as the Divine life which he has from God by fellowship with His Son, through his own personal faith, has attained the supremacy in him. The Divine nature that is in a man is that which is born of God. And that the apostle does not mean the man in whom that nature is implanted, whether he is true to the nature or no, is obvious from the fact that in another pal! of this same chapter he substitutes "whatsoever" for "whosoever," as if he would have us mark that the thing which he declares to be victorious and sinless is not so much the person as the power that is lodged in the person. That is my answer to the first question.
II. WHAT IS ASSERTED ABOUT THIS DIVINE LIFE? "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not." That is by no means a unique expression in this letter. For, to say nothing about the general drift of it, we have precisely similar statements in a previous chapter, twice uttered. "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not"; "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." Nothing can be stronger than that. Yes, and nothing can be more obvious. I think, then, that the apostle does not thereby mean to declare that unless a man is absolutely sinless in regard of his individual acts he has not that Divine life in him. For look at what precedes our text. Just before he has said, and it is the saying which leads him to my text, "If any man seeth his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life." And do you suppose that any man, in the very same breath in which he thus declared that brotherhood was to be manifested by the way in which we help a brother to get rid of his sins, would have stultified himself by a blank, staring contradiction such as has been extracted from the words of my text? I take the text to mean — not that a Christian is, or must be, in order to vindicate his right to be called a Christian, sinless, but that there is a power in him, a life principle in him which is sinless, and whatsoever in him is born of God, overcometh the world and "sinneth not." Now, then, that seems to me to be the extent of the apostle's affirmation here; and I desire to draw two plain, practical conclusions. One is, that this notion of a Divine life power, lodged in, and growing through, and fighting with the old nature, makes the hideousness and the criminality of a Christian man's transgressions more hideous and more criminal. The teaching of my text has sometimes been used in the very opposite direction. There have been people that have said, "It is no more I, but sin, that dwelleth in me; I am not responsible." The opposite inference is what I urge now. In addition to all the other foulnesses which attach to any man's lust, or drunkenness, or ambition, or covetousness, this super-eminent brand and stigma is burned in upon yours and mine, Christian men and women, that it is dead against, absolutely inconsistent with, the principle of life that is bedded within us. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." Another consideration may fairly be urged, as drawn from this text, and that is that the one task of Christians ought to be to deepen and to strengthen the life of God, which is in their souls, by faith. There is no limit, except one of my own making, to the extent to which my whole being may be penetrated through and through and ruled absolutely by that new life which God has given. It is all very well to cultivate specific and sporadic virtues and graces. Get a firmer hold and a fuller possession of the life of Christ in your own souls, and all the graces and virtues will come.
III. WHAT IS THE GROUND OF JOHN'S ASSERTION ABOUT HIM "THAT IS BORN OF GOD"? My text runs on, "But he that is begotten of God keepeth himself." If any of you are using the Revised Version, you will see a change there, small in extent, but large in significance, It reads, "He that is begotten of God keepeth him." Let me just say in a sentence that the original has considerable variation in expression in these two clauses, which variation makes it impossible, I think, to adopt the idea contained in the Authorised Version, that the same person is referred to in both clauses. The difference is this. In the first clause, "He that is begotten of God" is the Christian man; in the second, "He that is begotten of God" is Christ the Saviour. There is the guarantee that "Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not," because round his weakness is cast the strong defence of the Elder Brother's hand; and the Son of God keeps all the sons who, through Him, have derived into their natures the life of God. If, then, they are kept by the only-begotten Son of the Father, then the one thing for us to do, in order to strengthen our poor natures, is to take care that we do not run away from the keeping hand nor wander far from the only safety. When a little child is sent out for a walk by the parent with an elder brother, if it goes staring into shop windows and gaping at anything that it sees upon the road, and loses hold of the brother's hand, it is lost, and breaks into tears, and can only be consoled and secured by being brought back. Then the little fingers clasp round the larger hand, and there is a sense of relief and of safety. If we stray away from Christ we lose ourselves in muddy ways.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.