1 John 3:6-9. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
Just as there are no more comforting and encouraging verses in all of scripture than 1 John 3:1-2, there are no more confusing and distressing verses in all of scripture than 1 John 3:6-9.
John is making very strong statements here – No one who abides in him keeps on sinning, and whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, and he cannot keep on sinning. Statements like these have led to some really bad theology and some really stressed out Christians. Some have even taken this to mean that true Christians don’t ever sin again. But this would seem to to contradict almost everything else in the New Testament including things like Paul’s own life (Rom. 7), the whole book of 1 Corinthians, and this very letter:
1 John 2:1. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
These verses are so difficult to wrap our minds around that most English translations try to soften the language by writing no Christian “makes a practice of sinning.” But in the Greek it literally says “does not sin.” Period.
OK, so how is it possible that a Christian does not sin? Does John mean that we don’t commit individual sins, like cheating, lusting, gossiping, or coveting? Gee let’s hope not. Because if he does, then I’ve never known a Christian.
Or might John mean that as Christians we don’t habitually sin? We don’t make a practice of sinning or keep on sinning in the same way, over and over. Then there no addicted Christians? Every Christian with any kind of sin habit is not actually a Christian?
OK, so before we all lose our eternal security and doubt our own salvation because of our ongoing sinful condition, let’s be reminded of the parts of this passage that reveal our position in Christ. John makes some very strong statements not only about our sin, but also about our salvation in Jesus. Oh, and keep in mind, John is describing every Christian. He is explaining the normal Christian life to us, not an experience reserved only for the Christian elite.
Verse 6 – We all abide in him. Every person in whom Christ abides, abides in Christ. We don’t enter in and out of abiding moment by moment. By the indwelling Spirit we abide eternally in Christ (John 14:20).
Verse 7 – We all are righteous as he is righteous. Every Christian has been granted the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are justified freely by his grace (Rom. 3:24).
Verse 8 – The works of the Devil in us have been destroyed in all of us. The cross has destroyed the fear of death (Heb. 2:14). Satan’s only claim over us is now broken (John 14:30).
Verse 9 – We are all born of God and his seed abides in us. We are God’s children (1 John 3:1) living from his spiritual DNA. The slow growing, ever transforming, seed of Christ’s own gracious life abiding in us.
Now, if all of this is true about us (and it is) then what sort of trajectory are we on? Will we slowly and progressively move deeper and deeper into sin? Or will we slowly and progressively, as a baby grows, move deeper and deeper into faith and love?
If you read these verses as saying that the moment you received Christ you were supposed to be done growing in righteousness and should have achieved sinless perfection, well then, my friend, that is a recipe for your despair.
But if you can take hope in who and what you ARE in Christ, while remembering that Christ’s life in you is a seed, not a tree. That the Devil is defeated but still prowling. That you are righteous yet still need a righteous advocate each and every day for when you sin (1 Jn. 2:1). That you are God’s child, but won’t be like your big brother until you see him face to face (1 Jn. 3:2). That you have a new nature, but it must be nurtured. If you can see yourself as God’s child, born of God, participating in his own nature, then, you might just find that your doing has begun to match your being.
You might just find that your “to live” looks like it “is Christ.”
Have you ever thought you should be sinless by now? Or, have you ever thought that what you do doesn’t matter since your saved? Why are both of these wrong?
You in Christ
Why can John say that if we are in Christ we will not embrace a trajectory of sinning?
Christ in you
Where do you make a habit of sinning? How might trusting the love of God help you to put that sin to death?
Playlist: Overcoming Sin