Examining 1 John 3:8
In the first article, I introduced a teaching that adds healing and financial blessing to the atonement. (This is in addition to salvation.) In the second article, I provided a primary reason why I think that this teaching is dangerous. In the third and fourtharticles, I examined Isaiah 53:5 and John 10:10 which are two of three passages cited for this doctrine.
The third and final passage that was key in communicating the idea that healing and financial blessing is a portion of 1 John 3:8. It reads, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
The argument is simple. “What are the works of the devil? They are evils like sin, sickness, poverty, and the like. So, God comes to destroy those works in the atonement.” When asked to explain how these works can all be attributed to the devil, the response was, “In the garden of Eden, man was led to sin by the temptation of Satan. Where else did these things originate and who brought them here?”
The origins of certain evils are worth their attention alone. So for now, let’s focus on the proof text. Our end is to determine exactly what the “works of the devil” are in the context of John’s letter.
While the context of the letter is helpful, the immediate paragraph and will chapter suffice. The theme is clear and easy to understand. Verses 1-3 speak about our being in Christ and like Christ.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” As Christians, we share in the grace of God and are called his beloved children. Thus, if the world does not know Him, they will not know us (3:1).
The lack of recognition of the world also leans itself to the fact that we are not yet glorified in our bodies. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him.” So, until the Lord glorifies us, we will suffer evils just the rest of God’s creation. No particular evils are within the context of this letter, except the evil of transgressing against God.
One could assume that John would include natural calamities in this verse since we suffer those until the Lord’s return. But, that is not his focus. His theme here is sin and the Children of God. His point is that the two shouldn’t go together. “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (3:3).
In verses 4-11, John draws a distinction between those who are children of God and those who are children of the devil. In his summary, he says “By this it is evident who are children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” (3:10).
The six verses leading up to that explain his argument. He provides several logical statements that help us correlate between that works of the Lord and the works of the devil. The first is this: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (3:4). Simply put, if you practice sin you are practicing lawlessness which is the breaking of God’s commands.
John adds a sort of foot-note to that, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (3:5). Therefore, verse 6 concludes, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” This is the same statement said in to different ways. No matter how it is said, the truth is this: if you are a Christian, you do not practice sin since Jesus appeared to take away sins and in Him there is no sin. Notice the use of recognizing and knowing Him is employed to identify one with those in verse 1 who are not children of God.
The logic goes like this: Jesus takes away sins. If you abide in Him, you will not keep sinning. If you do keep sinning, you do not abide in Him. Jesus has not taken away your sins.
The following verses do this all over again. “Little children, let no one deceive you.” He says this because no matter who you abide in, you are a little child. You are a child of God or a child of the devil (3:10).
“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:7-8). This more or less the same thing communicated in verses 4-6 except it is in the context of doing right instead of wrong.
Here is the logic: If you practice righteousness, you abide in God since God is righteous. If you practice sin, you abide in the devil since the devil sins. God destroyed the works of the devil, so you cannot abide in God and do the works of the devil. This just doesn’t add up.
John’s math is clear. If you are in God, you will live in righteousness. If you are in Satan, you will live in sin. The works of God is righteousness. The works of Satan is sin. Whichever you practice will determine who your father is. You will either be a child of God or a child of Satan.
Thus, verse 9 reads, “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.” Notice the use of the word “cannot” which refers to ability rather than will. God destroys your ability to practice sin. In Satan, you have no ability to practice righteousness.
I think the theme is clear. The context is the practicing of sin and righteousness and how our practices help identify our father (as noted in verse 10). Therefore, the works of the devil should be clear. They are practicing sin. Or better put, the mastery of sin. The works of the devil are the inability to practice righteousness and the full ability and inclination to practice sin.
No where in this chapter, or the entire epistle for that matter, is sickness or poverty mentioned. And, in case you are still not entire convinced, notice 1 John 3:8 parallels an earlier verse and see if that answers the question in and of itself:
Jesus “appeared to take away sins.” (3:5)
Jesus “appeared to destroy the works of the devil.” (3:8)
John goes to great lengths to communicate his points. He says the same thing over and over and then again in a different way. There is really no reason why we should miss his point. The works of the devil are what Jesus appeared to take away. He did so at the atonement.
What did He take away? If it were sickness and poverty, then Christians should not suffer sickness and poverty the same way the world does. For we would be unable to do so. However, if it is the mastery of sin, then Christians should not practice sinning the same way the world does. For we are unable to do so.
An excellent argument falls out at the bottom of the examination of the text. To say that Jesus destroyed sickness and poverty, would lay a burden on many who profess to believe in Him. Thus, the danger ensues. As mentioned before, when a person does not experience the healing and financial blessing that the atonement seemingly provides, he or she may think that they are not a child of God.
This is easy to see. Simply substitute sickness and poverty everywhere you see the word sin. If the text still makes sense, then maybe you have a case. However, you will also make sickness and poverty a synonym for lawlessness. And by doing so, you equate sickness and poverty with sin. Thus, it is appropriate to tell a person who is sick or broke, that they are living in sin until they get healthy and get more money. Because, as John argued, he who practices sickness and poverty is a child of the devil (3:4, 8, 10).
And this leads us to our final examination. It is not over any specific key passage. Rather, it is over the truth about evils and their origins.