We won’t be able to quote this whole passage, so I would encourage you to read it slowly and prayerfully. John begins with these words “Little children,” because he is addressing the “whole family of God.” From verses 7-15 he is bringing out the character of those who have been “born of God.” One has called these the “birth marks of the child of God.” He contrasts this with what characterizes “the children of the devil” (those who have not been born into God’s family). Here are the birth marks of the “children of God” (we will be using the New American Standard Bible):

  1. Verse 7: “one who practices righteousness is righteous”
  2. Verse 9: “no one who is born of God practices sin”
  3. Verse 14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren”

Here is what characterizes the “children of the devil”:

  1. Verse 8: “one who practices sin is of the devil”
  2. Verse 10: “anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother”
  3. Verse 15: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”

In short, the child of God will be known for LIVING A RIGHTEOUS LIFE and for LOVING HIS BROTHER. Does this mean that a child of God will never sin or that he can never fail to love his brother? Of course not, for there are other scriptures where we are exhorted “not to sin” (see 1st John 2:1) and to “love our brother.” In fact, in the next section (verses 16-24) the child of God is encouraged to demonstrate their love for the brethren in various ways and we are even commanded to love one another.

  1. Verse 16: “We ought to lay down our lives for our brethren”
  2. Verse 18: “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth”
  3. Verse 23: “And this is His commandment, that we…love one another, as He commanded us”

This teaches us that we can indeed fail to show the true character of our new life in Christ. One of the key words that we saw earlier was the word “practice.” The child of God will be “characterized” by not sinning and by loving his brother. He may fail at times, but it will not be the character of his life. If one is known for their sinful life style and hatred of Christians, you can be sure they are NOT a “child of God,” but a “child of the devil.”

What is the secret of loving our brother and practicing righteousness? In a word it is “to keep the Lord Jesus Christ as the focus of our life.” He is our example and as we abide in Him His perfect life will be manifested through us. Regarding love, verse 16 tells us, “We know love by this, that HE LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US.” The more we “drink in His love” by meditating on what He did for us on the cross, the more we will have the desire and the power to display His love. Regarding righteousness, verse 7 says, “the one who practices righteousness is righteous, JUST AS HE IS RIGHTEOUS.” One has said that, “righteousness springs from a righteous nature.” The more we muse on the holiness of Christ, the One Who “knew no sin” (2nd Corinthians 5:21), “did not sin” (1st Peter 2:22), and “in Him is no sin” (1st John 3:5), the more we will display the holy nature that was imparted to us when we were “born of God.” (256.5) (DO)