First, consider the entire passage, focusing on the underlined key words and phrases:
"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 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. 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. 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." -1 John 3:4-10
I underlined the phrases that we would like to focus on. It is the word "sin" here and the different ways in which it is used in phrases ("committeth sin"; "sinneth not"; etc.) that causes all the confusion and various views. So I found it interesting to do this:
- In the first verse of the passage under consideration (verse 4), the definition of both "sin" and "commit sin" is clearly defined for the context of the whole passage.
- "committeth sin" = transgresseth the law
- "sin" = transgression of the law
With such clearly defined definitions stated in the context by the scriptures themselves, the intended meaning seems to become more clear. Therefore, the passage makes more sense by substituting the definition in for the underlined parts:
"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
And ye know that he was manifested to take away our transgressions of the law; and in him is no transgression of the law.
Whosoever abideth in him transgresseth not the law: whosoever transgresseth the law hath not seen him, neither known him.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
He that transgresseth the law is of the devil; for the devil transgresseth the law from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Whosoever is born of God doth not transgress the law; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot transgress the law, because he is born of God.
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 is not "re-wording" the word of God. It is simply using a Biblical and scriptural definition that is supplied directly in the context to substitute a word for its intended meaning to perhaps get a more clear and enhanced interpretation. In fact, in doing this, it forces one to keep the entire passage in context, whereas if one didn't, one might be inclined to impose their own personal definition or way of thinking upon the passage, like we all tend to do if not careful.
Now that we have established the context, let's take a closer look at the rest of the main body of the verses.
Can you sin or can you not sin?
- Conscience already convicts and convinces the born again child of God of that answer
- John would not contradict what he said earlier in 1st John 1
- Thus, Verse 9 does not teach sinless perfection in the behavior of the born again child of God
- The point, then, in 1 John 3 cannot be 100% of a practical or behavioral application
Many different ideas could be drawn from this passage:
- When you’re born again, there’s something inside of you that cannot sin, and that part of you is what is under consideration.
- Granted, but how can you clearly identify what that “part” is?
- Paul’s experience related to us in Romans 7:18
- It says “whosoever”, and not “whatsoever”, indicating the entire person and not just the born again “part” of us (within us)
- One that is born of the Spirit of God cannot continually, habitually, and perpetually commit sin.
- I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but is that the point of what John is teaching?
- What is habitual sin? Where is the line drawn? Once a day? Once a week? Once an hour?
- I think the position says more than the text describes.
- We have the “habit” of sin still within us, even after we are born again, that we struggle constantly with and fight against.
Verse 4: You can’t have sin, in its most technical sense, without first having an established law
- Adam’s law in the Garden of Eden
- Romans 5 – Only Adam and Eve were under God’s law in the Garden of Eden and could sin against that law. That particular law was unique to the Garden.
- Romans 5 – Death still reigned from Adam to Moses, even though there was no explicitly stated Divine moral law, proving that sin was active and in effect, yet, no knowledge/imputation of sin.
- Take away the law, and you take away the basis by which sin is established and measured
- “The law of Spirit of life in Christ hath made me free the law of sin and death”
- Two laws:
- Law of sin and death = you sin, you die – the principle of God’s timeless moral law, His criminal code of conduct imposed upon all of humanity via Adam’s transgression and fall.
- Law of the Spirit of life in Christ = not a commandment of behavior to try and keep, but a law that explains the way something is and how it exists and operates, i.e. like the law of gravity.
- You can only sin against the law you are currently under and by which governs you
- The law of sin and death produces only one result: you sin, you die – no exceptions
- The law of the Spirit of life in Christ removes you out from under the law of sin and death, and places you under God’s “Family Law” or “Parental Law” in Christ.
- THEREFORE, FROM A LEGAL AND POSITIONAL PERSPECTIVE, YOU CAN NO LONGER SIN AGAINST THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH BECAUSE YOU ARE NO LONGER UNDER THAT LAW, BY VIRTUE OF THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST THAT SUPERCEDED THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH AND FREED YOU FROM IT. YOU NO LONGER SERVE THAT LAW! YOU CANNOT COMMIT SIN AGAINST THAT LAW! ONE THAT HAS BEEN LEGALLY AND VITALLY MADE FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH NOW SINS AGAINST THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST! (GOD’S FAMILY/PARENTAL LAW)!
Same progression of thought in 1 John 3 that’s in Romans 8:
- Verse 4: The principle of sin established
- Verse 5: The principle of deliverance from sin established
- Verse 6: That principle of deliverance from sin applied vitally to us IN CHRIST
- How do we abide in Him?
- “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” – Romans 8:9
- Amazing the similarity between Romans 8:9 and 1 John 3:6,9 !
Therefore, with the understanding of these two different laws, a person that is under the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ sins "differently" than a person who is under the Law of Sin and Death. One sins against God’s Family Law and is convicted by the Spirit and chastened by God, while the other sins against God’s Moral Law directly, without guilt or conviction (i.e. sin like the devil, verse 8), and will suffer the full wrath and judgment of God (not chastisement).
Christ suffered the penalty for our sins against God’s Divine Moral Law, thus successfully atoning for those sins/transgressions. And through this atoning sacrifice, which is applied to us vitally through the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ (the Spirit of God abiding in us), we are both legally and positionally moved out from under the Law of Sin and Death and now live and operate under the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ.
- Legally, we cannot sin against the Law of Sin and Death anymore. Christ atoned for that and freed us from it, thus satisfying God’s Divine Justice and Wrath pertaining to our transgressions. I believe this to be the foundational basis for God’s chastisement of His children, which they enjoy under His Family Law.
- Practically, we cannot sin in the same way that we did when we were under the Law of Sin and Death. We are now convicted by “His seed that remaineth in us” and are chastised by God’s loving hand and rod of correction. One that is under the Law of Sin and Death, and that commits sin against that Law, has quite a different experience – an experience that lacks conviction and chastisement.
- In other words, one that is born again cannot commit sin in the same way that the devil does (and the children of the devil). For one, they operate under two totally different laws. And because they operate under two different laws, their practical experiences of “committing sin” are very different.
- While sin is sin (practically-speaking) regardless of what Law one is under, and while the actual act of sin may appear to be no different between the two (externally), internally the person is affected very differently respective to what Law they are under. The internal then affects and influences the external, i.e. “In this the children of God are manifest….” (verse 10)
- Remember, the book of 1st John is a book of God’s spiritual assurances to His individual children. It is to be understood within the context of “Justification by Faith” and not “Justification by Works”, i.e. the court of one’s own mind and conscience instead of the court of the public opinion of others. Those that try to interpret and teach 1st John from a “Justification by Works” standpoint (as the fruits by which to externally judge people as either God’s children or not God’s children) often tend to strongly lean in the direction of the Calvinist and Absoluter views of extreme perseverance.
A Biblical application of 1 John 3:4-10 made by Jesus Christ:
- John 8:34-36
- “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
- Amazing the similarity of language to 1 John 3:8,9.
- Jesus just basically preached Romans 8:2 (and 1 John 3:9) before it was ever written!
- Jesus is telling this to a group of wicked Pharisees that He later describes as, “Ye are of your father the devil…” Clearly, these are not children of God and they were manifest as such and declared by Jesus to be so. Just like in 1st John 3, the devil is the chief example and “father” of those that “committeth sin”.
- Two principles:
- Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin, i.e. under the dominion of the law of sin and death (Rom 6:14). They serve sin in the same way that a slave serves a master, i.e. in total bondage to it. Paul’s language in Rom 7:14 seems to indicate being sold under the bondage of sin. It is what we are according to our carnal nature.
- He that committeth sin is of the devil, i.e. the devil is their “father” and they are the “children of the devil”.
- Therefore, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin” must be understood within the context and meaning of how “committing sin” is used earlier in the text. Verse 4 defines it, and the devil is the chief example of it. It is direct violation of God’s Divine Law, of which the devil did from the beginning.
- The born again child of God, who is . . . .
- No longer the servant of sin (Rom 6:18; John 8:34-36)
- No longer under the dominion of sin (Rom 6:14)
- No longer under the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2) . . . .
CANNOT directly violate God’s Divine Law anymore. He’s not under it. He has been freed from that law of condemnation by the work of Christ and is now under a different (infinitely better) law -- the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ; the Family Law of God; the law we are placed under by Spiritual Adoption!
- Therefore, every practical sin that a born again child of God commits is now against the Family Law of God and the Law of Christ, which is not subject to the condemnation of the law of sin and death (for Christ suffered that condemnation on our behalf), but rather is subject to the loving chastisement and correction of our Heavenly Father.
- IN THIS, the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil!
- The children of God are subject to conviction, repentance, chastisement, and correction from God due to the law they are currently abiding under, and their behavior is manifested in a way that is consistent with their legal and positional status and their nature.
- The children of the devil are subject to death, condemnation, judgment, and wrath, without any guilt, conviction, or reservation in how they sin, due to the law they are currently abiding under, and their behavior is manifested in a way that is consistent with their legal and positional status and their nature.