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. (1 John 3:9)
What does this verse mean? What does it mean “whosoever is born of God cannot sin?” This is a question that has been asked many times, a good many more times than we could number and has received many different answers. Even so, most people who have asked it have been left in the dark and have not received a satisfactory answer. Most answers are simply an involuntary acknowledgement on the part of the answerer that they don’t know what it means and most end up by leaving the impression that it doesn’t mean what it says. In all my time in the ministry, I was never able to answer it satisfactorily and neither did I hear anyone else do so. And yet this is such an important matter. I believe that if we don’t understand this verse, we don’t experience the full benefit of what the Gospel was meant to bring into our lives, and we struggle to know the complete peace and joy of God that it brings.
It seems that this question has been approached in much the same way that the blind men of India approached the elephant in the old story. By people who did not see and because of going by their feelings came up with a lot of different answers that brought only confusion. I’m sure though, that when the eyes of our understanding are enlightened, as it speaks of in Ephesians 1:18, we will be able to see it clearly and know the glorious liberty of the children of God. I don’t claim to know the answer either. What I would like to do is present some thoughts on the subject that have come to me. I know they will be offensive to some but to others they will mean freedom.
Jesus said in John 8:36, “If The Son therefore shall make you free ye shall be free indeed.” To be “free indeed” would mean to be completely free, not even a vestige of bondage to sin. How many of us, if we are completely honest with ourselves, can say that this has been our experience? One woman who has been professing to be a child of God all her life, more than fifty years, asked me once, “why are we in such bondage?” How much true freedom do we really see?
What does it mean then, to be “free from sin”? If we can understand this, we will be able to better understand what John was writing about. Some of the aspects of sin could be the following:
The curse of sin
The stain of sin
The fear of sin
The law of sin
The conscience of sin
The possibility of sinning.
The list could be much longer but these can give us something to think about. It would seem that until we are free from all of these things that we are not “free indeed.” Most of us would agree that we can be free from most of these things but would stumble on the last, not accepting the concept of freedom from the possibility of sinning. And yet, this is what John wrote, that “whosoever is born of God doth not sin.” It is ironic that this greatest of all favors given to men of God, is the hardest for them to accept and believe.
But how can we be free from sin if we are still capable of sinning? Some tell us that we sin every day; we sin with our thoughts and our words, etc. Does that sound like freedom? Why do people fight to defend their concept of sin and reject the doctrine that can set them free? Would part of the reason be an emotional relationship with other people, which they call “fellowship” that would be endangered if they accepted such a doctrine? Their leaders would call it “false doctrine,” and since most people believe their leaders, they would be obliged to cut off from their fellowship those who would embrace such a doctrine. This frequently happens in other faiths and religions.
What then is sin? Maybe we need to understand better what sin is in order to understand how we can be free from it. In John 16:8-11, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, of the Comforter that He would send in His place and of three things that He would do. He would reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement. Of sin, because they didn’t believe on Him. Of righteousness, because He was going to the Father, and they would see Him [Jesus] no more; and of judgement, because the prince of this world was judged.
There has always been a question in my mind regarding this passage. I could understand people being reproved for sin but why would God reprove people for righteousness? Or did He mean that He would reprove them for their concept of these things? There is a great difference between the concept the world has had of these things and that which Jesus brought. The concept the world has had of sin is that it is the violation of their laws of creeds of traditions!
And often these had nothing to do with the word of God but rather were simply rules and laws imposed by the rulers of the churches. A good example of this is found in Jer. 2:8, “The priests said not, where is the Lord? and they that handled the law knew me not. The pastors transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that do not profit.” This was the condition of the ministry in that day, and it is a good description of the ministry in every age. This kind of ministry has imposed rules and laws upon the people and those that violated these rules were classified as sinners.
Their concept of righteousness was the opposite of sin. It was strict adherence to these laws on the part of the people. As long as people outwardly kept these things, they were called righteous even though inwardly they were something entirely different. Their concept of judgement was that those who disobeyed were punished, the degree of punishment adjusted to fit the crime. Because of holding these concepts, the strong and influential among them have become oppressors and through the centuries have held a terrible control over people, keeping them in bondage to the law of sin and death.
What then was the concept of these things that Jesus brought that was so different? Regarding sin, we might look at John 3:18, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned but he that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Sin is not mentioned in this verse but condemnation is, which is the consequence of sin.
This verse makes it clear that there is no condemnation to the person who believes in Jesus. No condemnation means freedom from sin which is the righteousness of God given to man as a gift through faith in Christ. It means that God Himself does not condemn him, that no man or group of men has any right to condemn him, and no principality or ruler of darkness has the right to condemn him. He is simply not condemned, period, end of sentence. So simply put, sin is unrighteousness because of not believing in Him, no matter what moral standard the person lives by. Righteousness is a gift of God, freedom from sin, given to those who believe in Him.
Regarding judgement, Jesus also brought a concept entirely different from what the people were used to. Under the Law of Moses, judgement was not only allowed, but it was a responsibility. They were supposed to judge each other. They were to judge their neighbors; parents were to judge their children, etc. Then Jesus came telling them not to judge. Can we imagine what a hard thing this would be to accept? Those men in John 8 who brought to Jesus that woman that was accused of adultery, came with their hearts set on judgement, and they justified themselves in this by the law of Moses, by one of the ten commandments, no less.
They were ready to start throwing stones and were willing to turn that poor woman into an inert bloody heap in defense of their laws. They considered their law of more importance than that soul. Jesus came along and showed them, and showed us too, that the sinner is of greater value than the law that made him a sinner. So man’s judgement sacrifices the sinner, or offender for the law; the judgement of Jesus sacrifices the law for the sinner. See Col. 2:13-16, Eph. 2:13-16. These verses make it clear that the laws, handwriting of ordinances, and commandments that were contrary to us were abolished; making us free from the sin that came as a consequence of disobedience to them.
In Romans 8:3, it says, “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” We notice here that it was sin that was condemned, not the sinner. Is not this what happened when Jesus forgave the “woman taken in adultery” in John 8? Jesus was making void the law in favor of the sinner. According to 1 Cor. 15, the law was the strength of sin, or in other words, sin’s champion. When the law was voided, sin was defeated.
In the case of David and Goliath, David’s victory was a victory for all Israel. Sharing his victory, the people lost their fear of the enemy and became overcomers. The fear of Goliath had kept them in bondage to the Philistines but with Goliath out of the way, through the victory of their champion, they no longer feared the enemy. I Cor. 15:57: “but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the victory of Jesus over sin’s Goliath, the law, through the grace of God, is our victory, making us, through faith, overcomers over sin.
One might wonder why an entire army was afraid of one man even if he was nine feet tall, because what is one man, even a nine-foot tall one against an army? This too, was part of the allegory, that this one should keep all the people in the bondage of fear until the one would come, who had been anointed king, in the power of God, to destroy the champion of the Philistines. Is not this a picture of how sin’s champion, the law, kept people in the bondage of fear until The One came, the only one who had the power and authority of God to disannul the law. No human had the power or authority because the law was given of God. But He who authored it also had the power to disannul it.
Some might ask, why is this fellow making such an issue over these things? What’s the big deal about the law? Don’t we need law to guide people and to discipline and control them? What will the people do without some restrictions? It is these questions and the seeking of the solutions to these questions that move some men to impose their will upon others, calling it the will of God.
My motives for presenting these truths are not selfish. I have no desire to rule over others. Paul said to the Romans that he desired to see them that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift. I can honestly say that that is my true motive in writing these things. I have nothing apparently to gain by it as I know that few will believe it. But I feel that those who believe it will know a freedom that they never knew before and they will understand better the term “the glorious liberty of the children of God,” (Romans 8:21).
We might take a look at 1 John 1:8 and 10. These verses seem to contradict what it says in I John 3:9. I’m sure that in the mind of the writer there was no contradiction so there has to be a way of looking at it so that they will agree. How can we accept the idea that we can’t sin when John also said that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and if we say that we have not sinned we make Him a liar? Maybe we can find the answer to that question in Matt. 5. In this chapter, in all reality, Jesus made it impossible to sin, according to the law.
There were those like the Pharisees that believed they were righteous because of their zeal for the law. They looked upon themselves as righteous and upon others as sinners. Paul also spoke to this kind of people in Romans 2:17-21. There have always been these kinds, who were willing to condemn others and justify themselves. Is this the type of people that John was speaking to also? If so, then there is no contradiction between these verses.
What John was in essence saying is the same thing that Paul said in Romans 11:32, “for God has concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.” In Matt. 5, Jesus concluded them all in unbelief, or sin. According to Romans 3:19, He stopped their mouths and made them guilty before God. All had to be made guilty so that all could be given access to the grace of guiltlessness. Jesus first made them all guilty by showing them that they could never be guiltless through the law, then He died on the cross, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us and made it possible for us to live guiltlessly, in other words, to not sin.
The grace of guiltlessness–not faultlessness. We were never promised faultlessness, but we have been promised guiltlessness. We could never be faultless, but we can be guiltless, and there is a great difference. Paul said in Gal. 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, let him that is spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself; lest Thou also be tempted.” A person could commit a fault without it being a sin. Under the old law, faults were often sins but under the law of grace, many things that were considered sins are only faults. This may sound a bit confusing but there is an explanation. Let’s look at John 8: 1-11 again. What Jesus did here was a lot more than forgive one person for one sin. This is a beautiful picture of what He came to do and did.
In this passage of scripture, we see Jesus fulfilling what Paul wrote of in Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” This says that God condemned sin, it doesn’t say that He condemned the sinner. In fact, the way that He condemned sin, was to justify the sinner. In Romans 7:11 we read, “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me and by it slew me.” This woman in John 8 was brought to Jesus accused by the law, or accused by others through the law.
Now, let’s think of sin, not as the commission of a deed, or the violation of the law, but rather as a principality or power, a ruler of darkness, or even think of it as a person, just for clarity’s sake. Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, the law of adultery, had accused this woman, and was waiting for the execution of the punishment, to complete its work of destruction. If Jesus had allowed her to be stoned, as the law was calling for, sin would have been the victor. But when He forgave her, He frustrated the law, annulled it in her case, and cut off sin’s access to her. This way sin was condemned. This is why He could say to her in all confidence, “go and sin no more.” If she believed in Him, this would be her portion in Him, that sin’s access to her would be cut off and she could be free from sin in every aspect. Those words, “go and sin no more,” were not a threat, but a promise and a reassurance that would make real to her the glorious liberty of the children of God.
We see then, how God, through His Son condemned sin in the flesh. In a few words, Jesus condemned sin by justifying the sinner. The only way that man could ever condemn sin was in condemning the sinner. Jesus, the only one who had the power on earth to forgive sins, was the only One who could do this. And in dying on the cross, He abolished the law and cut off forever, the access of sin to the believer.
Is this not what John meant in 1 John 5:18? “For whosoever is born of God sinneth not, but He that is begotten of God keepeth him and the evil one toucheth him not.” (The King James Version says “keepeth himself,” but the margin says “keepeth him.” Isn’t this something wonderful and glorious? Didn’t God say through the prophet, “I will do a marvelous work and a wonder that you will not believe though a man tell you?” And the amazing thing is that as wonderful as this is, it is the most difficult thing for men to believe. One of the greatest reasons being no doubt, that the people are subject to their rulers, and their rulers do not want them to be free as they would lose their control over them.
There is a difference between teaching Christ through the law, and teaching the law through Christ, and to be truly free, we must know that difference. The former is what Jesus did when He took His disciples apart after His resurrection and showed them all the places in the law that spoke of Him. The latter is what people do when they impose rules of laws on people in the name of Christ. Contained in the law are the most beautiful truths ever given to mankind. It is filled with prophesies of that marvelous work and wonder that was brought to us by it’s fulfillment in Jesus.
I am not wanting to control people. My only desire is to see them free. I am not a writer. I am only trying to express what has been laid on my heart. However, it is sad to me that people cling to a belief that keeps them in the fear of sin when Jesus has shed His blood that they might be free.
Author: Jim Wood, an Ex-Worker, Ex-2×2 (deceased)