Meditations in 1 John : 34 : Avoid Deception
1 John 3:7,8 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.
Again, here’s another ‘wave’ coming in yet again. There was a brief mention of deception right back at the beginning: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) but the main reference prior to our present verses was, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” (2:26) and now he turns the warning into a command: “do not let anyone lead you astray”
Now those are the main verses that are obviously about deception but actually so much of what John has been saying is about this subject. A person is ‘deceived’ when they have been led to believe something that is untruth. A con man may deceive you that he was a good, honest person with your best interests at heart, when in reality he was out to fleece you of your money. Satan deceived Eve by getting her to believe that everything would be all right if she sinned. He first challenged what God had said: “He said to the woman, “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1) and then he got her to believe it would be all right if she disregarded God: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.” (Gen 3:4). By his persuasive talk he deceived here into thinking that disregarding God’s commands (sin) was all right – but it wasn’t!
Twice above, we have seen John speak about those who might “lead you astray” meaning those who try to get you to veer away from living according to God’s commands and do your own thing. That is what ‘deception’ is all about and the moment we see it in these terms – veering away from living according to God’s commands – we suddenly realise that this is what John has been on about throughout this letter.
Right back at the beginning: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth,” (1:6) there it was! If we say one thing but do another, we have been deceived – and we’re trying to deceive others! He repeated it a bit later: “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (2:4) There it is again – someone saying one thing but doing something that runs contrary to what you would expect from that thing. Deception! He follows it up in a different form: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” (2:9) Exactly the same: saying one thing but doing what is contrary to what you said.
After some more teaching, he varies it slightly: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (3:6) It’s more by implication here. Living in Christ and sin don’t go together so if you say you are in Christ (implied) but carry on sinning, you are deceiving yourself.
This is John’s message that comes again and again into that period in which he lived when some people said they were Christians but clearly lived lives that were not. John has recently been reminding us that if we are ‘in Christ’ then we will be like him, e.g. “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (3:3). So now he says, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (3:7). We have already noted a number of times that to be “in Christ” means that with his Holy Spirit living within us, we will start to be like him; it is a process that starts when we are born again and continues throughout our life, with the Spirit working within us. The person who now lives according to God’s commands and is led by God’s Spirit – “who does what is right” – is clearly a righteous person, a person ‘in Christ’. We can only claim to be righteous if God has made us so.
Yet again he makes a contrast to drive home the point “He who does what is sinful is of the devil” and he explains why that is so: “because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” It is just the same as the other side of the coin when he said those in Christ will live righteously. Now he’s pointing out that the (ongoing) sinner is like he is because he/she follows Satan and Satan has been a Sinner from the beginning when he rebelled against God.
If you like, John’s teaching is learning to distinguish between chalk and cheese, good and evil, right and wrong, and realise that they cannot both exist in the same person as a driving force. Yes, we’ve seen we make an occasional mistake, we may get it wrong from time to time, but it is the overall life-drive that he’s talking about. You cannot be given over to self-centred and godless living at the same time as being committed to Christ. They are obviously mutually exclusive. It doesn’t matter what a person says, it is what they actually do that counts. A person might be nice, might be good, and say they are a Christian, but if, essentially, the rest of their life (apart from Sunday mornings) is self-centred and godless, they are deceived and if they try to get us to agree that their lifestyle is valid and in accordance with what they say about their beliefs, they are trying to deceive us! This is the message that John is bringing again and again through his letter.