Characteristics of the Children of God and the Children of the Devil in 1 John

It is John’s consistent pattern to describe the children of God and the children of the devil in terms of present tense verb(al)s. These two groups are thus characterized by definite patterns of behavior.

The Child of God

Positively: has fellowship with the Father and His Son (1:6), walks/abides in the light (1:7; 2:10), confesses his sins (1:9), keeps His commandments (2:5; 3:22, 24), loves his brother (2:10; 3:14), knows God, the Father—the One from the beginning (2:13, 14; 4:6, 7), has overcomes the evil one (2:13, 14), is strong (2:14), does the will of God (2:17), confesses Jesus as the Son of God, and believe him to be the Christ (2:23; 4:15; 5:1), does righteousness (2:19; 3:7), purifies himself just as Christ is pure (3:3), is receiving what he asks for from the Father (3:22), does what is pleasing to Him (3:22), abides in Him (3:24), loves [others] (4:7), overcomes the world (5:4), and has the Son and life (5:12).

Negatively: he has no cause of stumbling in himself (2:10), is not sinning (3:6; 5:18), and is not able to be sinning (3:9).

The Child of the Devil

Positively: walks in darkness (1:5; 2:11), may claim to be sinless (1:8), may claim to have never sinned (1:10), hates his brother (2:9, 11; 3:15), loves the world (2:15), may deny that Jesus is the Christ thereby denying the Father and the Son (2:22), and commits sin and acts of lawlessness (3:4, 6, 8).

Negatively: does not keep his commandments (2:4), does not know where he is going because the darkness he walks in has blinded him (2:11), has not seen God (3:6), does not do righteousness (3:10), does not love his brother (3:10; 4:21), does not love (3:14), does not listen to the inspired author (4:6), does not know God (4:8), and does not have the Son of God or eternal life (5:12)

The contrast is stunning. A child of God walks in the light and does not sin. A child of the devil walks in darkness and commits sin. John has only two categories. He does not set up a graded hierarchy of Christianity. There are just two kinds of people: children of God and children of the devil.

Theological & Practical Implications

First, these descriptions imply that by “sinning” John has in mind conscious/willful violations of God’s word. A person who is walking in the light is doing all he knows to do. Therefore, he is not consciously doing anything he knows is wrong, i.e., he is not sinning according to John. Recognizing that John implicitly distinguishes conscious sin from unconscious or ignorant sin enables one to reconcile John’s apparently black-white dichotomy with the Pauline epistles’ pastoral realism.

A Christian’s life may have any of the sins of the flesh or spirit that Paul tells his new converts to put off. Yet the very fact that apostolic epistles had to be written highlights the recipient’s lack of knowledge. Should a new convert initially persist in his wrongdoing, Paul calls for church discipline. Continued persistence in sin evidences either false profession (1 John 2:19) or re-entanglement and defeat by the defilements of the world (2 Peter 2:19).

Second, the fact that the child of God confesses his sins (1:9) does not mean he practices sin (poiei amartian), but rather that he can sin (ean tij amarth|; 2:1). If he does commit an act that is sinful, he repents and confesses and then continues to walk in the light.

The fact that the NT epistle that is most adamant that the children of God do not sin acknowledges the possibility that we may sin, should teach us that sin in the life of a believer is a possibility. When a reality, the advocacy of Christ (2:2) provides the grounds of the believer’s certainty that, confessed and forsaken, it will be forgiven (1:9).


Any claim that 1 John 3’s description of the child of God—one who does not sin and is not able to practice sin—is idealized, eschatologically proleptic, or otherwise not intended to describe the present reality of the believer’s life flies in the face of John’s consistent, epistle-wide characterization. Children of God do righteousness and do not “do” sin.

Wesleyans may appeal to John’s language in support of their contention that Christian do not practice willful sin. This conclusion should not, however, lead to the erroneous conclusion that violations of God’s word are not sin.

Characteristics of the Children of God and the Children of the Devil in 1 John
ta tekna tou qeou ta tekna tou diabolou
κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ (1:6) ἐν τῷ σκότει περιπατῶμεν (1:6)
περιπατῶμεν ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτι (1:7) εἴπωμεν ὅτι ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν (1:8)
 ὁμολογῶμεν τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν (1:9)  εἴπωμεν ὅτι οὐχ ἡμαρτήκαμεν (1:10)
τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν (2:3)  τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ μὴ τηρῶν (2:4)
ὃς δ᾽ ἂν τηρῇ αὐτοῦ τὸν λόγον (2:5)  τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ μισῶν (2:9)
ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ φωτὶ μένει (2:10) ὁ δὲ μισῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ ἐστὶν (2:11)
σκάνδαλον ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν (2:10) ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ περιπατεῖ (2:11)
ἐγνώκατε τὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς (2:13) οὐκ οἶδεν ποῦ ὑπάγει (2:11)
νενικήκατε τὸν πονηρόν (2:13) ἡ σκοτία ἐτύφλωσεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ. (2:11)
ἐγνώκατε τὸν πατέρα (2:13)  ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον (2:15)
ἰσχυροί ἐστε (2:14)  ὁ ἀρνούμενος ὅτι Ἰησοῦς οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ Χριστός (2:22)
ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεου (2:17)  ὁ ἀρνούμενος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱόν. (2:22)
ὁ ἀρνούμενος τὸν υἱὸν (2:23)  ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν, καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν (3:4)
ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ ὃ ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἠκούσατε (2:24)  ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν (3:6)
ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεγέννηται. (2:29)  ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν (3:8)
ἁγνίζει ἑαυτόν, καθὼς ἐκεῖνος ἁγνός ἐστιν. (3:3)  ὁ μὴ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (3:10)
 ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει (3:6)  ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ (3:10)
 ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην δίκαιός ἐστιν (3:7)
ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ (3:9)
οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν (3:9)
ἀγαπῶμεν τοὺς ἀδελφούς (3:14)  ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν μένει ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ. (3:14)
 ὁ μισῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἐστίν (3:15)
ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν λαμβάνομεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ (3:22)
τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηροῦμεν (3:22)
τὰ ἀρεστὰ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ποιοῦμεν. (3:22)
ὁ τηρῶν τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει (3:24)
ὁ γινώσκων τὸν θεὸν ἀκούει ἡμῶν (4:6)  ὃς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἀκούει ἡμῶν (4:6)
πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται καὶ γινώσκει τὸν θεόν. (4:7)   μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν (4:8)
Ος ἂν ὁμολογήσῃ ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστὶν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (4:15)  ἐάν τις εἴπῃ ὅτι ἀγαπῶ τὸν θεὸν καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ μισῇ, ψεύστης ἐστίν· ὁ γὰρ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ὃν ἑώρακεν, τὸν θεὸν ὃν οὐχ ἑώρακεν οὐ δύναται ἀγαπᾶν (4:20)
 Πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς, ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται (5:1)
 πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον (5:4)
 ὁ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν (5:12)  ὁ μὴ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει. (5:12)
 τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ (5:13)
 ᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει (5:18)


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