Q.

I am puzzled. First John 3:9 really hit me, and I don’t know how to reconcile this verse with 1 John 1:9. Please help.

A.
First John 3:9 states, “Whatsoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” It seems to contradict 1 John 1:9, the familiar verse that tells us God is faithful and just to forgive believers’ sins if we confess them. John wrote this promise to believers. It implies that believers sin; for if we need to confess our sins, then surely we sin.

To understand 1 John 3:9, we need to consider two truths. First, we must know that believers in Christ have two natures. The unbeliever has only the old nature, but believers have not only the old nature but also the new nature. Peter referred to this fact when he wrote of believers as partakers “of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4). This new nature does not and cannot sin because it is the divine nature.

Now, if after we were saved we had only the divine nature, we would never sin again. Some groups teach this idea. We commonly refer to that doctrine as “sinless perfection.” But the fact remains that believers also have the old nature. Thus we sin, and 1 John 1:9 is as true as 1 John 3:9.

Second, we must take into consideration the meaning of the word “commit” in 1 John 3:9. This word is erroneously taken by some to mean that a believer wouldn’t do even one act of sin. But a study of this word reveals that it refers to continual sinning—a deliberate lifestyle in sin. The present tense indicates a continuous action, or a habitual sinning. A true believer may sin, but his life does not show an unbroken practice of sinning. (Keep in mind I refer to a true believer, not to someone who puts on an act, one who merely professes rather than possesses salvation.)

To summarize, the meaning of the word “commit” and the understanding of the two natures the believer possesses show us that the two verses you questioned harmonize rather than contradict each other.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (August/September 1994).
© 1994 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.