We’ve come to the conclusion of the letter. John doesn’t end with an exhorting paragraph, or a final doctrinal conclusion. Instead, he concludes with a list of loosely connected aphorisms, and by pointing to the assurance we are to have that we are saved, and can resist temptation. I shall deal with each of these in turn.
I John 5:18: We fully know that everyone being born of God sins not, but the one born of God keeps watch over Him, and the oppressor cannot touch Him. -MGV
There is so much meat in this passage if one goes to the Greek. It is truly a powerful statement, and I’ve attempted to tease out some of the subtleties that are lost in most translations in the translation above. Let me point of few of them out quickly before I get to the meaning of the text.
First, the word oidamen is translated above as “We fully know”, though it is translated in most versions as “We know”. However, it is in the perfect tense, and I think this is important. The perfect means that something has been completed in the past with present significance. Therefore, it somewhat means “We have known and continue to know”. In other words, this has been demonstrated to us in the past, and it continues to be true. This is definite knowledge, and its truth is indisputable.
Second, the words gegennemenos and gennetheis are both participles of genneo which means to sire or beget (it’s where we get words like generation, regeneration, gene, genesis, etc…). The only difference between them is that the first word is present while the second is aorist, or past. There are two possibilities as to what the difference is. The first is the gegennemenos are new believers, still being born of the Spirit, while the gennetheis, the one born of God, is a seasoned believer. The second posibility is that the gegennemenos is the believer while the gennetheis is Christ. I believe it to be the latter, since only Christ has such power over the enemy.
But think about the strong connection this gives us to Christ! It seems to be saying that Christ has completed a process that we are currently going through, and that process is being born of God! I don’t think this relates to the eternal begetting of the Son within the confines of the Holy Trinity, but instead to the human side of Christ who is perfected in His being before God. In this sense, we are being made into the image of Christ through regeneration, which is the concept being highlighted here to teach us the power that we have over sin.
Third, the word that I translate as “oppressor” is usually translated as “evil one”. I changed it here because the Greek poneros does not simply refer to one who is intrinsically wicked, but to one who brings hardships, toils, and, well, work. This points out the nature of sin in my opinion, since the sin that Satan encourages us to do brings us not just condemnation, but more work and toil. He doesn’t just hurt us, but he oppresses us; puts us to the whip. It is important for us to know what the truth of sin is, for it seems easy, but it is the harder road.
Finally, the word appetai, which can only really be translated as touch, is full of meaning. This is the word used in the translation of the Levitical law to refer to the consuming of unclean food, immoral intercourse, and fellowship with Gentiles. It can also mean to attack at times, but to translate it thus (as the NIV does) takes away much of the nuance. To me the implication is that any oppressor, whether it be Satan or a worldly man, can have nothing at all to do with the believer. We are completely protected from the residue of wickedness that is on such a person.
As you can see, there is much to be gained from the Greek in this verse. However, the gist of it is clear, even in the English: Christ protects us from sin. All of us who are being remade into the image of the Son cannot be corrupted by the designs of the world and the devil for Christ guards us. In this, I am reminded of the words of the Remonstrance:
That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ’s hands -The Articles of Remonstrance, Article V
It is important here to remember what book we are in. In the Book of I John, John has been concerned with demonstrating the difference between a true believer and a false believer. John’s true concern in this statement is to give us assurance that Christ is with us since he is convinced that if Christ is, then we are protected from sin. In other words, “Since you are not sinning, we can know that Christ is truly with you, for that is a sign of His presence”.
Therefore, we are to expect this to come to pass. Over the past two millennia, we have forgotten the power of the Spirit to protect us from sin, and there are many who are believers that wrestle with sin because of it. We have forgotten how to access true faith, and have suffered for it. But those of us that trust in the word of God can also trust in its promises, and the promise of Christ’s assistance in this life. So therefore, let us expect the rebirth of our souls, and though we may continue to struggle with the flesh as Paul did, we can also expect to have victory. For by this we know the presence of Christ, as we know the presence of the wind.
So be encouraged and of good cheer, for we have a God at hand, and that God is mighty to save.