1 John 3:9 - Can a Christian Sin?
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for his seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.1 John 3:9
A New View of Sin
Some years ago an American psychiatrist by the name of Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Describing the malaise of Western society he noted the almost complete disappearance of the word "sin" from the contemporary vocabulary. Now 20 years on we are even further away from facing up to the gravity of sin. The moral consciousness of our nation has almost disappeared.
The spirit of the age has affected the Church. Dr Menninger took preachers to task for soft-pedaling sin. An "easy believism" has brought multitudes into the professing church without a true conviction of sin. They have "accepted Christ as Saviour" but their lives give no evidence of holiness. Lawlessness has made great inroads into the life of the Church. Antinomianism is widespread.
Are multitudes being deceived? Can a person be justified without being sanctified? Can one be a saint without being saintly? Will a person who believes in Christ go to heaven "no matter what sin (or absence of Christian obedience) may accompany such faith" (R. T. Kendall, Once Saved Always Saved, 1983, p. 41)?
An Old Problem with Sin
Antinomianism is no new thing. It troubled the early Church. It was the error that the Apostle John is inveighing against in this passage of his First Epistle (3:4-9). He is seeking to counter a form of Gnosticism that was Antinomian in practice. It was being propagated by false teachers who had been in the church but, because they could not get their own way, had left: "They went out from us but they were not of us" (2:19).
These heretics were putting great emphasis on special knowledge and spiritual experience. This was sufficient evidence of a divine work. The status of the "spiritual" man was not to be tested by the commonplace facts of moral conduct.
This insidious teaching had no doubt shaken the faith of some of the true believers. John is writing a pastoral letter to reassure them of the true faith in which they stand. At the same time he is sending forth "a tract for the times" which by its nature is polemical. He exposes the errors of the false teachers and at the same time furnishes true believers with a series of tests by which they may discern between the genuine and the spurious and so not be deceived.
Sin and the Christian - Incompatible
It is in this area of practical Antinomianism that he pleads with believers: "Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practises righteousness is righteous, just as He (Christ) is righteous." The test of a man being righteous (right with God) is that he practises righteousness. God the Father is righteous. Christ the Son is righteous. Whoever has the divine life and belongs to the family of God does righteousness. The doing of sin is incompatible with the nature and status of the believer. The Christian life is a life of "truceless antagonism to sin" and this is evident:
1. In the Light of what Sin is.
"Sin is lawlessness" (verse 4). Sin in its very nature is lawlessness. To sin is to assert one's own will as the rule of action against the absolutely good will of God. Sin is repudiation of the whole authority and aim of God's moral government. It embodies the principle which, given effect to, would overthrow the entire moral order of existence. Sin is that which has no right to be. Sin is dehumanising to ourselves because it is the dethronement of God within us.
2. In the Light of the Work of Christ.
"And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin" (verse 5). The whole appearance, character and action of the incarnate Son went to counteract and overthrow sin. His nature was without sin and his mission was against sin. A signal appearance of the Divine in our flesh has taken place which was God's demonstration against sin. God's Son was sent to rid the human race of it — to take the world's manifold sin clean away. The righteous Son of God stands forth as the leader of the sons of God.
Christ and sin are incompatible. "Whoever abides in him does not sin" (verse 6). To harbour sin is to dissociate oneself from him. "Whoever sins has neither seen him nor known him." To continue in sin is to supply clear evidence that we have never seen or known Christ.
3. In the Light of the Origin of Sin.
"He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning" (verse 8). Sin is diabolical. Sin is his characteristic activity. Everyone who sins shows a character that must have derived from him. Although the person who commits sin can have no kinship with Christ he is not without spiritual kinship. He has a spiritual father in the Devil. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). The Son of God came to "destroy the works of the devil". Sin therefore amounts to trying to undo the work of Christ.
4. In the Light of Origin of the Christian Life.
"Whoever has been born of God does not commit sin" (verse 9). The Christian has been born of God. The new birth involves the acquisition of a new nature through the implanting within us of the very seed of God. As the seed of physical generation stamps, an ineffaceable character on the child so does the germ of spiritual life from the spiritual Father set the impress of a permanent character on the child of God. There is a distinct family likeness. The life of divine sonship is by necessity of nature one of righteousness and one of antagonism to sin. "He cannot sin because he has been born of God."
Does what John say then amount to a doctrine of sinless perfection? By no means! He countered the error of those who were denying that sin exists in our nature by saying: "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1:8). He made allowance for the Christian who falls into sin: "If anyone sins we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (2:2).
It is not that the Christian without sin or that he never falls into sin. It is rather that he can never treat sin indifferently. If he thinks that he can sin without prejudice to his standing then he is deceiving himself. The only evidence we have that we are righteous is that we do righteousness and have a holy antagonism to sin.
1. To which Family do you Belong?
There are two families each with its own head and each carrying on its own business. We belong to the one or to the other. In either family the children may be known by their moral likeness to the head of the family. We know a Christian because he practises righteousness. We know an unbeliever because he keeps on sinning. Moral affinity proves spiritual descent. There should be no difficulty in knowing in which family you belong.
2. What is your Attitude to Sin?
How do regard the law of God? Have you treated it with indifference? For a Christian to sin means going against his redeemed nature. To commit the offence he must deny his true self. He is doing something alien to the Christ in whom he dwells. When he sins he is in effect going over to the other side — the devil's side. To sin is to undermine the family business. To sin is to score a goal against your own side. We cannot afford to treat sin lightly.
3. What is the Proof that a Man Knows God?
It is not the knowledge that he claims to have. It is not the spiritual experience to which he testifies. It is not the eloquence that mesmerises people. The only sure, unchallengeable, unshakeable proof of Christian grace is Christlike character and righteous living. The indulger in sin is ipso facto out of Christ. His life argues that he has always been so and that his Christian profession was never genuine.
Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit ... Therefore by their fruits you will know them.Matthew 7:15-20
May God have mercy on us for our slight views of sin and grant us again a truly Biblical conviction of the gravity of sin in the believer.