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1 John 2:28–29 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
28 And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born from him.
These two verses introduce the concerns of chapter 3. Now, dear children seems to introduce a major new section. Christians begin by believing and trusting in Jesus. Then what? We are to continue (or abide) in him so that when Jesus comes again, we may be confident and unashamed. This simple statement is actually very complicated. It has several interpretations:
- The reference is to unsaved individuals who will be ashamed at Jesus’ coming. This seems a difficult position to sustain, since verse 28 begins by addressing Christians. This is needless instruction for those who are already saved.
- We are to remain in fellowship with Jesus, or we will lose our salvation and be ashamed at Jesus’ coming. One might understand this isolated verse in that sense. Taken with the teachings of the entire New Testament, the opposite meaning is true. Christian theologians have debated this for almost two thousand years. A simple description focuses on two opposing positions given in oversimplified outline. The Armenian position is that a believer can lose his salvation. The Calvinist position is that once elected and saved by God, a person can never lose that gift of salvation (see Deeper Discoveries). More complete descriptions are available in Bible dictionaries, wordbooks, or theological dictionaries.
- We are to remain in fellowship with the Lord, or we, as Christians, will be ashamed at Jesus’ coming. We do not normally think of Christians being ashamed at the coming of Jesus. We must remember that at the judgment seat of Christ, a Christian’s works are evaluated and eternal rewards are meted out. At that time the possibility of shame exists. First Corinthians 3:10–15 says a person’s works will be revealed as either perishable or imperishable: “His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.” On the appointed day when the Lord comes, he “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5). Further, “we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9–10).
These passages teach us that the judgment seat of Christ will be more than a Sunday school awards banquet. Experiencing shame at living an undisciplined life might be part of what we could face. First John 2:28 reassures those who live normal Christian lives that they will not experience this shame. Only those who do not continue in him will do so.
That shame, should it be experienced, will be relatively short-lived. Revelation 21:4 promises that God will wipe away every tear, as the things of this world pass forever. The shame is not a perpetual thing, but is something to be avoided.
Everyone who does what is right has been born of him. Here is another difficult statement. At first impulse, we can think of plenty of people who have done what is right but were not believers in Jesus. Does this mean they were born of him anyway? Ghandi, for example, lived a profoundly sacrificial life, completely given over to good deeds. He treated others as he wanted others to treat him. If someone struck him on one cheek, he turned the other cheek. If he saw someone who was in need, he sacrificed all he had to help him. He lived in poverty and gave away all he had. He spoke kindly to people and lived a life filled with more Christian principles than most Christians. Does this verse mean Ghandi was born of God because he did what is right?
If we had only this verse, we might come to this conclusion. But balanced with the rest of Scripture, this impression is reversed. Scripture makes it clear that it is through Jesus—and him alone—that we receive salvation (John 14:6). A correct understanding of and belief in Jesus is necessary for salvation (1 John 2:22–23). Therefore, someone such as Ghandi, who knowingly rejected Jesus, could not be born of God.
To understand these difficult sayings, we must continually come back to their context and intent. The church had been invaded by Gnostics. They claimed to know God through special inner knowledge. They believed that the spirit was good and was untouched by the physical, which was evil (see Deeper Discoveries on 1 John 1). Therefore, the Gnostics believed they could sin flagrantly without remorse or consequence, since their spirits remained untouched by sin. They claimed to be Christian, to know God, but they hated Christians and lived sinful lives. God inspired this letter to challenge such people’s claims to know Jesus. They must do what is right to validate that they are Christian. If they claim to be Christian, but do not do what is right, they are not Christian.
Does what is right can also mean “practices righteousness.” Understood in this light, “doing good” is not the same thing as righteousness. Something may be good in the eyes of mankind, but not good in the eyes of God. To him, all our “righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Our righteousness must be motivated by our knowledge that he is righteous. Only when our good deeds are done in response to our desire to serve Jesus—only when our acts are an expression and outworking of our faith in him—is God pleased.
By David Walls and Max Anders
 The Greek word (παρρησία parrēsia) literally means freedom of speech or outspokenness. The sense is boldness in being willing to undertake activities that involve risk or danger, primarily being honest and straightforward in attitude and speech.