A Question I Was Asked:

Whoever is Born of God Cannot Sin? Can You Explain?

The Question:

John says,

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (1 John 3:9; NIV).

This suggests that to be 'born again' is to become entirely sinless, yet elsewhere in Scripture (1 John 1: 8-10, for instance), both John and Paul do not seem to expect Christians to be sinless. We don't seem to find the Roman Catholic idea of "sinless, holy saints" of amazing and unblemished moral purity - Can you explain this please?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay. As you say, John himself, just a few pages over from this Scripture, states this,

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10; NIV).

So, obviously we need to understand what John means by his comment in 1 John 3:9.

The point John is making in 1 John 3:9 is simply that a truly converted child of God will not have an attitude of seeking to satisfy sin, rather, his or her way of life will be to please the Lord Jesus and to walk in the general direction of the Christian life. However this does not imply perfection. This verse reads better in the NIV than in some translations. In the KJV, for example, it reads thus:

'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.'

That is a bit 'black and white,' but the Greek seems to be looser. Probably the loosest English-language rendition is the Weymouth New Testament which states,

'No one who is a child of God is habitually guilty of sin. A God-given germ of life remains in him, and he cannot habitually sin--because he is a child of God.'

Now that is a real attempt to be 'loose,' however, maybe it is just a bit too loose. The point to understand here is that John is not writing something here which he himself contradicts in 1 John 1:8-10. Like Paul in Romans 7, John knows that none of us are perfect - far from it! - but, in Christ, our life direction certainly changes. So "cannot sin" here is a mental/philosophical/spiritual comment, not a physical one.

Of course, there is also the additional point that a truly converted child of God cannot be a 'sinner,' because he or she is now under grace, sin no longer being imputed. This means that a true Christian who stumbles into doing something 'sinful,' is not - and never can be - in the same category as somebody in the world who rejects all ideas of God and of 'sin' - that person's sins are indeed recorded and he or she will one day be accountable.

Robin A. Brace. December 21st, 2012.