Children of the Devil: 1 John 3:10–12

children of the devil (2)

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15) 1 John 3:10–12: The Apostle John proclaimed that a test exists to determine the validity of a person’s claim of faith in Christ,[1] and whether we ourselves belong to him (Matt 7:15–23).[2]

This passage strongly affirms that holiness characterizes the lives of believers.[3]

John began by stating, “In this it is evident [who are] the children of God and the children of the devil.”

Thus, he made a sharp division of people into two classes. While Jesus applied the latter designation to Israelis who opposed him (John 8:42–47), John professed that this name applies to some people who claim to live for Christ.[4]

Those whose lives are typified by sin do not know God (1 Cor 5:9–13; Gal 5:19–21).[5]

Therefore, we must scrutinize ourselves to determine whether we live righteously. Although we can never achieve perfection in this life, we do have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation (1 Cor 10:6–13; Gal 5:22–26).

John saw no conflict between the law and the gospel: both call us to live in holiness and love (1 John 2:3–6).[6]

Failing to practice righteousness on an on-going basis indicates that one is not a believer. This especially applies to not loving fellow Christians (1 John 3:13–15).[7]

What John wrote to the people in this church was nothing new. They had heard a similar admonition from him before (John 13:34–35).[8]

By loving others, even those outside of the church, we fulfill the moral demands of the law (Rom 12:9–21; Rom 13:8–10; Gal 6:7–10).[9]

Consequently, the apostle exhorted them to live out the new character which the Lord had placed within them.[10]

Since the essence of God is love (1 John 4:7–12),[11] the commands to believe and to continuously love others remain inextricably linked.[12]



The apostle then emphasized the requirement to love by contrasting devotion with its antithesis.[13]

Greco-Romans considered killing a member of one’s family one of the most heinous crimes.[14]

For example, Cicero (106–43 BC) castigated his archenemy by calling him, “You parricide, you fratricide, you murderer of your sister.”[15]

John applied this same concept within the church,[16] citing Cain as the prototype of murderers (Gen 4:3–8).[17]

While Cain could control his actions, John specified the source of his attitude and behavior as Satan himself.[18] The devil was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44; Gen 3:1–7, 17–19).[19]



According to John, Cain “slaughtered” (sphazō) his brother.[20] This term exudes violence. It occurs in the New Testament only here and nine times in the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev 6:4).[21]

The atrocity began with a failure to love which turned to hatred: murder in embryonic form (Matt 5:21–22).[22]

John noted that Cain despised Abel “because his deeds were evil and those of his brother [were] righteous.”

Jealousy of his brother’s uprightness formed the root of Cain’s life-altering iniquity (Prov 27:4; James 3:13–16).[23]

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a) Read 1 John 3:10–12. What do our attitudes toward Christians reveal about us? Why is Cain a supreme example of the consequences of envy? How does jealousy affect your life?




Go to Love or Death (1 John 3:13‒15)

[Related posts include Love or Death (1 John 3:13‒15); Serpents in the Ancient Near East (Gen 3:1); A World-Altering Conversation (Gen 3:2–5); Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6); Their Eyes Are Opened (Gen 3:7); A Return to the Ground (Gen 3:19); A Servant of the Ground and a Shepherd of a Flock (Gen 4:2‒5); Sin Lies Stretched Out (Gen 4:6‒7); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Misappropriated Blood (Gen 4:9‒10); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); Banished from God’s Presence (Gen 4:15‒16); Transcending the Law (Matt 5:21‒22); Be Reconciled to Your Brother (Matt 5:23‒24); A Murderer from the Beginning (John 8:42–44); Falling for Deception (2 Cor 11:3–4); An Angel of Light (2 Cor 11:13–15); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Brothers (Genesis 4:1‒16)]


[1]Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1989), 179.

[2]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 187.

[3]Gary M. Burge, Letters of John (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 150–1.

[4] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 180.

[5] Burge, Letters of John, 157.

[6] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 183.

[7] Marshall, The Epistles of John, 187.

[8] Marshall, The Epistles of John, 189.

[9] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 181.

[10] Marshall, The Epistles of John, 188.

[11] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 181.

[12] Burge, Letters of John, 160. In Koine Greek, a verb in the present tense indicates that the action occurs continuously or repetitively.

[13] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 183.

[14] Keener, IVPBBCNT, 1 John 3:11–3.

[15]M. Tullius Cicero, “On His House,” in The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; London: George Bell & Sons, 1891), 10.26,

[16] Keener, IVPBBCNT, 1 John 3:11–3.

[17] Marshall, The Epistles of John, 189.

[18] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 183–4.

[19] Burge, Letters of John, 160.

[20] Danker et al., “σφαζω” (sphazō),  BDAG, 979.

[21] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 184.

[22] Marshall, The Epistles of John, 189–90.

[23] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 185.