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1 John 1:8-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 2:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not commit a sin.* But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one;
* The Greek verb (ἁμάρτητε hamartete) is in the aorist subjunctive; therefore, the time of the action is punctiliar, or momentary. The aorist tense here points to one act of sinning.
1 John 3:6-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed remains in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed remains in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
If 1 John 3:6, 9 needs to be read with a correct understanding of the verb, which is in the present tense. Otherwise, John would seem to contradict his words noted above. The King James Version reads: “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not,” and, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” This reading does not convey in English the continuous action indicated by the present tense of the Greek verbs. The Updated American Standard renders the present tense of the Greek verbs: “keeps on sinning,” “makes a practice of sinning.”
The Mistaken View
New Testament Bible scholars David Walls and Max Anders attempt to unravel this conundrum. The problem is, they are quite mistaken. We will look at their full argument, which sounds very biblically grounded, until the missing information is given.
Can Christians Sin? (v. 9)
The Epistle of John is a troublesome letter to understand. It contains many black-and-white statements that, if taken only at face value, seem to contradict teachings elsewhere in Scripture. By studying carefully what John is really saying, we can harmonize the epistle with the rest of Scripture.
In chapter 3, perhaps the most troublesome issue is what a Christian’s sin indicates. Does sin mean a believer has lost his salvation? Is it a sign he was never saved in the first place? First John 3, especially verse 9, can be read in this way. The niv, on which this commentary is based, reads: No one who is born of God will continue to sin … he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. Other good translations (kjv, nkjv, nasb, etc.) basically translate: “No one who is born of God will sin,” and “He cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”
Therefore, we must look into the issue more closely to see if a Christian can sin and not lose his salvation. The answer, of course, is yes. First John admits this in 1:8: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Again in verse 10: If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar.
Other Scripture passages strengthen this understanding. Peter demonstrated that we cannot sin so often or so badly that God will not forgive us. He came to Jesus, asking him how many times he should forgive someone who had sinned against him. Peter ventured a bold answer to his own question—“seven times!” (Matt. 18:22). That was a generous number in the eyes of the world. How many times would you forgive someone who insulted your wife, or drove over your lawn, or took money from you? Seven seems like a lot. Amazingly, Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus did not intend to stop at seventy-seven, but merely to dramatize the answer by multiplying Peter’s own generous suggestion. From other teachings in Scripture, it is safe to say that we should forgive as many times as we are wronged. This is not to say that we make no precautions against being wronged again, but we must always forgive, not only to be obedient to the Lord (Matt. 6:15; Eph. 4:32), but also to keep bitterness from springing up and choking out our spiritual life.
If God expects us to forgive so many times, would he hold himself to a lower standard? So we see we cannot sin so many times that God will not forgive us.
Nor can we sin so badly that God will not forgive us. Again, Peter demonstrated this by cursing and denying that he knew Jesus—about as bad a sin as anyone could commit (Matt. 26:69–74). Yet, only a few days later he was eating breakfast with Jesus on the shore of Lake Galilee, in perfect fellowship (John 21:15–19). We cannot sin so many times or so badly that Jesus won’t forgive us.
If you believe in Jesus, have come to him for forgiveness, have committed your life to him, and have been born again, you are saved. No sin can separate you from the love of God (Rom. 8:38–39). When God’s children sin, God chastens us. His discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:5–11).
A man in Corinth was committing adultery with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5). Paul urged the Corinthian church to excommunicate him. Paul declared that, in this way, this man’s body might be destroyed but his spirit would be saved (v. 5). Also in Corinth some believers were violating the Lord’s Supper. Paul said that because of this, some of them were weak, some were sick, and some had even died (1 Cor. 11:30). Still, nothing Paul said indicated that they had lost their salvation.
The point is that if God is willing to save a person when he is an enemy of God, how much more is he willing to save a person once he has become a child of God (Rom. 5:10)? After we are saved and then fall into sin, we may incur God’s chastening hand in our lives, but we will never be lost.
If we have no regard for righteousness, if we treat sin lightly, if our life is set in opposition to the holiness of God, this is an indication that we were never saved in the first place. The false teachers in the church in Ephesus, the antichrists, were claiming to be righteous while they were immoral at the same time. They did not love the brethren, and they denied that Jesus was God in the flesh. They claimed that they knew God by special inner knowledge, but they did not believe the truth and lived unrighteous lives. John’s bold statements were designed to make it clear to everyone that these antichrists were not Christians. This was demonstrated by their lack of faith as well as their immoral and uncaring lifestyles.
The Correct Biblical View
The question is whether a Christian can sin and if he does sin or sin infinitely, will he lose his salvation. The issue in John is between committing a sin, regardless of how many times, and “practices sin,” that is, living in sin unrepentantly, namely, willfully.
No one stops sinning. Jesus’ ransom sacrifice covers Adamic sin, single sins, even if committed multiple times due to human imperfection. But this is only true if the person feels guilty and repents, even if it takes some time for his efforts to get mastery over the sin. Paul compares the human body to a vessel. For a person to “each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” or “each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor,” he must bring his thoughts, desires, and actions into harmony with God’s Word. – 1 Thessalonians 4:4.
Jesus’ ransom does not cover ‘practicing sin,’ that is, living in sin unrepentantly. Man is mentally bent toward evil. (Gen. 6:5; 8:21) He has a treacherous heart that he cannot fully know. (Jer. 17:9) His natural desire is to do bad. (Rom. 7) However, imperfect man still has the moral compass that Adam and Eve had, but it is not as effective. (Rom. 2:14-15) So, every human is born with a moral compass, but it needs to be cultivated to keep it effective. The Bible does this if we understand it correctly and apply it correctly. But the moment you let your hand down on some innocent appearing situation, you end up committing a sin that can lead to ongoing sin if left unchecked. If you keep repeating this sin, your conscience (moral compass) will become calloused, and you will start living in sin unrepentantly. Ravi Zacharias is an example of this. So, any Christian on the path of salvation can stumble off that path and become worldly again, forfeiting the ransom. This does not mean they lose the opportunity to salvation because someone or themselves can help them regain their spiritual senses. Then, they reenter the path of salvation.
Jude 5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 Now I want to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
Matthew 24:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
COMMENTARY: Here, Jesus clearly states that a person’s salvation is not guaranteed at the moment that they accept him, have faith in him, and dedicate their lives to him.
Philippians 2:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
COMMENTARY: Paul here was writing to born-again Christians, “the saints” or “holy ones” at Philippi, for Philippians 1:1 states, “Paul and Timothy, servants pledged to Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus that are in Philippi …” Paul in 2:12 is urging them not to be overly confident, as their final salvation was not assured as Jesus had stated, only those who survived to the end. (Matthew 24:13) True, God is at work in us enabling us to carry out his will and purposes, but we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit by as Paul said, working out our salvation.
Hebrews 10:26-27 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 For if we [Paul and the born-again Jewish Christians] go on sinning deliberately after receiving the accurate knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
COMMENTARY: This clearly states that one can lose their salvation. Paul says “we,” which means that he is including himself and the born-again Jewish Christians he is writing to, both needing to remain faithful, suggesting they have the free will to be unfaithful.
2 Peter 2:20-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 For if, after they [born-again believers] have escaped the defilements of the world by the accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness, than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
COMMENTARY: If the born-again believer who has been made righteous through “the accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” cannot lose their salvation, why are there so many warnings about their falling away or turning back? Again, many Bible verses show that those who have entered the path of salvation; are still obligated to endure faithfully. (Matthew 24:13; Hebrews 10:36; 12:2, 3; Revelation 2:10) The Christians in the First-century showed joy when they saw that fellow born-again believers were enduring in their faith. (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3; 3 John 3-4) So, does it seem logical that God, through the Bible, would emphasize faithful endurance and warn of falling away (leaving the faith, leaving Christ) if those who did not endure and fell away would be saved anyway?
Hebrews 6:4-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then [after that] have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to public shame.
Fall Away, Forsake, or Turn Away: (Gr. parapiptō) The sense of parapiptō is to fall away or forsake the truth.–Heb. 6:6.
Renew, Restore, or Bring Back: (Gr. anakainizō) The sense of anakainizō is to cause change to a previous state, to start anew.–Heb. 6:6.
On this text, M. R. De Haan in Studies in Hebrews correctly observes, “If that is not a description of true, born-again believers, then language means nothing, and we cannot understand anything in the Word of God anymore. Five marks of the believer are given:
- They were once enlightened.
- They had tasted the heavenly gift.
- They were partakers of the Holy Spirit.
- They had tasted the good Word of God.
- They had knowledge of the Word of God.
Is anything more than faith needed in order to enter the path of salvation?
Ephesians 2:8-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not from works, so that no man may boast.
COMMENTARY: God’s grace is the complete provision for salvation for a born-again Christian. No human can gain salvation on their own, regardless of how many good Christian works they may do. Salvation is an undeserved gift from God to all who put faith in the sin-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Let’s look a little deeper at Ephesians 2:8-9.
For by grace are you have been saved – By an undeserved gift from God. It is not by your own merit; it is not because we have any claim. Through faith – Grace bestowed the underserved gift of salvation through faith or in connection with believing into Jesus Christ. Heb. 5:9, RSV: “He [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Italics mine) This does not contradict the statement that Christians are “saved through faith”? Obedience to God is evidence that one’s faith is genuine.
James 2:14, 26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
COMMENTARY: No Christian can ever earn salvation by his works. However, if the Christian has genuine faith, he or she will have works because of that real faith. The works are being obedient to the Father and the Son, and works are evidence of one’s faith and love. If one does not have works because of genuine faith, their faith is dead.
CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING HOUSE BLOG ARTICLES
- What Does the Bible Really Say About Born-Again Christian Losing Their Salvation?
- EPHESIANS 1:4: Are some chosen (predestined) to eternal salvation, and others to eternal condemnation?
- CHRISTIANS Do Not Try to Save Yourself
- Why Is Salvation for Christians a Journey, a Path, Not a Condition, or State of Being?
- Born-Again Christians— How Do You Know That You Are Saved?
- How Are We to Understand Faith Without Works is Dead?
- Does the Bible Teach Universal Salvation?
 David Walls and Max Anders, I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude, vol. 11, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 201–203.
 M. R. De Haan, Studies in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 104–105.