Seven Wonderful Truths About Genuine Believers
1 John 3 - Genuine Believers Do Not Make A Practice of Sin
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Sermon Delivered 7/25/04
We have been looking at the seven wonderful truths about genuine believers as they are revealed in chapter three.
Our focus in this message will be…
1 John 3:4-6, 9-10 "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. 9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
This is one of the most confusing passages of Scripture in the New Testament, perhaps in the whole Bible. Verse 9 particularly has caused many Christians to question whether they are really the Children of God. "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
Early in my ministry I ran into a young man in my Bible study that claimed he had come to the point in his life where he no longer sinned. I disagreed with him and pointing him to 1 John 1:8 "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." His rebuttal was 1 John 3:9 - "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." The discussion became heated to the point that the young man left in a huff. I followed him out the door, trying to get him to stay, but he would not. He jumped into his car, hastily backing out of the driveway, sped down the road, burning rubber all the way, ran the "STOP" sign and fishtailed several blocks down the road.
I ask you, what’s wrong with this picture? He broke the law by running the "STOP" sign. He broke the law by his reckless driving. He broke the law by going over the 25 mile per hour speed limit, not to mention his unrighteous anger. So much for his "sinlessness." When I saw him about a week later I said, do you still claim to be sinless? He said "yes." I said, what do you call your actions after the Bible study? He said, "Oh, that was not sin, that was a mistake!"
That brings me to the BIG QUESTION, is the Apostle John saying once you become a Christian, you do not and cannot sin? That is what we will be examining in this message.
There is a hermeneutic principle (a principle of interpretation) that says, "a text without a context is a pretext." In other words, you can prove anything if you take verses of Scripture out of context. So, I ask you the question: What is the context of 1 John 3:4-10? In reality, you cannot rightly understand what this passage is teaching unless you set it in the context of the entire letter. Therefore, we must ask the BIG QUESTION, in context of the letter, is the Apostle John saying once you become a Christian, you do not and cannot sin? 1 John 1 gives a "no" answer (see 1 John 1:6-10). Next, I turn your attention to 1 John 2, which also gives a "no" answer. Turn to 1 John 2:1-2 "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." It is obvious that John is saying that the goal of believers is to make every effort not to sin. But, if you do sin, Jesus Christ is the believers "advocate" or defense lawyer before God, asserting that we are not guilty, because He (Jesus Christ) is righteous and is the propitiation (accepted sacrifice) for our sins.
Since this is true, is there a contradiction in John’s teachings of 1 John 3? Let’s see.
To be able to understand what verse 4 is saying, we need to go back to the previous verse – "1 John 3:3 "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." The word purifieth is a present active indicative, which indicates that a believer has in the past, is in the present and will in the future purify himself. In other words, the true believer continually and habitually seeks to be holy and keeps on striving for holiness in his or her life.
That is in stark contrast with verse 4. Look at the word committeth. It is a present active participle, indicating continual, repeated sinning! Think about that for a moment. What kind of person is in focus in verse 3? A saved person who is striving for holiness. What kind of person is in focus in verse 4? It is an unsaved sinner who is controlled by sin! If a man is a sinner, what can he do but sin? How can a sinner avoid sinning so long as he remains simply a sinner, because sin is the state of his nature! He is as far as he can be from holiness. So, the context is a contrast between the sinner and the saint; the unsaved person with the saved person. It is clear that this is contrast between the one who abides in Christ and the one who "hath not seen Him, neither known Him." v.6
Verse 4 is saying the unsaved are lawless. They do their own will and ignore God’s will. They are bent on a course of sinning; willful, obstinate, persisting in sin.
This is the truth of the Gospel! Jesus Christ is the answer to the sin problem. He was sent by His Father to take away our sins. There is no other way to get rid of them (1 John 4:14; Galatians 1:4; Revelation 1:5). And, why can Christ wash away our sins? Verse 5 says, "in him is no sin." Christ had neither original sin, nor actual sin. He knew no sin and did no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). Because of that our sin was imputed to him, and he became the only fit person to be a sacrifice for the sins of others, and by his unblemished sacrifice he took away the sin of all who believe on Him
Here again is a contrast between the genuine Christian and the unsaved person. Again in this verse we see that the word abideth is a present active participle and whosoever sinneth is likewise a present active participle. You will recall that this construction indicates continual repeated action. Therefore the first half of the verse is saying that the true believer does not sin habitually. His life is not wholly turned toward sin as the unsaved persons life is.
The second half of the verse, "whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him," implies that that the unsaved person has neither seen nor known God in times past, with the present result that God is still invisible and unknown to him. That brings us to verse 9
To begin with, the phrase is born of God refers to the completed act of regeneration. We are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We are talking about a spiritually alive, born-again believer. Now, this born again person "doth not commit sin. The construction is a present active indicative again, which indicates the child of God does not have the habit of sin. A believers life is not wholly turned toward sin, but rather toward holiness and growing to be more like Christ. Now we move on to the phrase "he cannot sin." The word sin here is amartanein – amartanein (ham-ar-tan-en), which is a present active infinitive. A great deal of false theology has been built on a misunderstanding of the tense of this word. This Greek construction always speaks of continuous, habitual action, therefore meaning he is not able to habitually sin.
That brings up the question, why can’t the genuine believer live in continuous, habitual sin? The answer is also in verse 9 – "his seed remaineth in him." His seed refers to the principle of divine life in the believer. That is, the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer. This makes it impossible for a Christian to live continuously like an unsaved person, because the divine nature causes the true child of God to hate sin and love righteousness, and gives the believer both the desire and the power to do God’s will (Philippians 2:13). One preacher put it this way – The reason it is impossible for a child of God to continue in sin is that the germ of divine life has been implanted in the soul of the believers and it grows gradually. On occasion there are lapses into sin, but that is like bad weather that may hinder, for a time, the growth. But, this is just a temporary setback and the growth continues. However, know this: if there is no growth, there is no life. Perhaps this is an even better illustration I ran across. It is possible for both a sheep and a pig to fall into a mud hole, but the difference in their nature becomes immediately evident in their reaction. The pig is perfectly happy. He rolls over on his back, singing "Home Sweet Home." But the sheep is very disturbed, troubled, unhappy and miserable, and earnestly desires to get out.
Are you a pig or a sheep? If you are happy to persist in sin and are you have a persistent rebellious, lawless attitude toward God and His Word you are a pig. You are lost. You are unsaved. You are yet in your sins and will go to Hell unless you repent and return to Christ. If you are a sheep, you are, as has been said, very disturbed, troubled, unhappy and miserable when you sin.
In Conclusion, the Apostle John is not saying that
genuine Christians do not and cannot sin. He is saying the genuine
Christian’s life is not characterized by habitual sin and godlessness but
rather by a life that can be seen to be growing in Christian character and