To: [Poorhouse Dad]
Subject: 1 John 3:4-10
Read these verses with attention to how it seems to be saying that if one is born of God, he does not sin. I think I know what the real meaning is but would like your view.
1 John 3:4 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.
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
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.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
This passage has bothered me, too. Some people take it at face value, believing that they can reach or hav e reached sinless perfection. In college, I watched an itinerant "holiness" preacher make a mockery of Christ's name and endanger his own safety as he challenged passing students for looking like druggies and prostitutes. He rationalized his rude judgmentalism by claiming that he had not sinned since he "got saved." I don't know whether this over confidence came from his misguided theology or from his pride, but it was an embarrassment.
We do receive imputed holiness from Christ, but He applies that through His grace, not through our deeds. Ironically, as such people reach this state (or so they think), they fall into habitual commission of the sins of pride and of carrying around logs in their own eyes.
The standard interpretation of the passage holds that sin refers to habitual sin. This seems inadequate to me because we all grow in holiness (called practical sanctification). We gradually purify our walks, but sin continues during that process of purification, and nobody but our Lord ever accomplishes total purity. Some of those sins stem from ignorance, but others stem from habit. So I think the Spirit intended a bit deeper meaning.
According to verse 4, sin is the transgression of the law. It needs no explanation to an evangelical believer that Mosaic ceremonial law is N/A to us. We need not suffer guilt over ignoring a feast or omitting to perform a sacrifice commanded by the Law. In this spiritual sense, those who have received Christ's redemption cannot sin.
We can expand this sense because James states a principle that the Law is one law with many points, like a chain with many links: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. If the ceremonial law cannot condemn us, then the entire law has lost its power to condemn us.
Paul states in Colossians 2:14 that Christ blot[ted] out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.
The child of God has freedom from the entire Mosaic law: For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God (Galatians 2:19); so if sin is the transgression of the law, the child of God cannot, legalistically, sin.
Another sense of sin hinges on our dual natures,20spirit and flesh. Paul explains in Romans 7:23-25 that, although God plants in our minds the desire to do righteous deeds, we remain in corrupt bodies full of sinful desires:
I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.... So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.Paul's language implies, my being exists not in my body, but in my mind and my spirit.
Sometime our flesh drives our will so that when we yield control to the physical, we commit acts well-described as sin. At the same time, in our core, we cringe to see what we are capable of. In the promise of deliverance -- O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord -- Paul verifies this identification with the portion of us which survives death. So in our flesh we sin, yet at the core of our spirit-born being, we would not.
John is consistent with Paul. The regenerated mind does not concur with the sinful actions of the flesh. Christ gave himself not only to take away our sins judicially, but also to remove them practically. Without this deliverance, the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14). The desires of the flesh enslave the unsaved man, whereas Christ sets free the spirit of the saved man now and will set free even the corrupt flesh of the saved man in the resurrection.
Since the flesh -- as it is in this life -- has the condemnation of death and the promise of metamorphosis in the resurrection, Paul considers his flesh as though it were dead already -- as good as dead, as we would say. Thus, he says in Galatians 2:20, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Just as we live in the world, yet are not of the world, we are in the flesh, yet are not of the flesh.
The Law, the great schoolmaster that brought us to Christ, does not rule over us (Galatians 2:24), for Christ has paid forward the complete debt incurred by our violations of that law; and we cannot violate regulations that no longer have jurisdiction over us. In the schoolmaster's place, we find a new Law that supercedes the old: Imitate Christ, take on the Family attributes of freedom and holiness, love one another. We obey this new law not like a man doing his taxes, but like a math whiz attacking a Sudoku puzzle. This new law fulfills the old law, but instead of being our labor, it is the believer's quest.
One last point before I let this go. It is clear from the context of the entire book of 1 John that 2:4-10 does not speak in absolutes concerning sinning. Already, John has written, 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…. (1 John 2:1) John recognizes that a sinless walk does not come automatically; otherwise, why would he encourage it? He also recognizes the practicality of a mechanism, Christ's advocacy, for when we do sin. Mistakenly interpreting 2:4-10 in absolute terms, then, could cost the believer much peace.
That portion which forms our core being does not sin, for the Holy Spirit re-births us pure, holy, fit for God's presence. We face a constant choice between walking in our unredeemed flesh and walking in our reborn spirit. Paul therefore urges us, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). In practice, as an overpowering force, sin does not reign forever in the life of a believer.
If we do not progress in Christ, in our sanctification, and in love, we have reason to question the authenticity of our conversions; but if we find in ourselves that struggle against our sinful flesh that Paul had, we have one reason for reassurance.
Isolating passages such as 1 John 3:4-10 from the rest of the Bible lead to errors such as that of the itinerant preacher. When we understand the duality of our being, we reach a more balanced interpretation and a more balanced life.