Question: My understanding is that Christians do sin, and receive forgiveness when they repent; yet 1 John 3:6-10 seems to contradict this. I would like your input.
1 John 3:6-10 seems to say that Christians don’t sin, which contradicts obvious Christian experience as well as an earlier statement in the same letter that admits Christians do sin:
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
John was addressing some heresies plaguing the early church. There were false teachers who claimed that Christians are incapable of sin because they are “born of God.” Other false teachers claimed that God doesn’t care if Christians sin because their sins were already paid for on the cross. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, 1 John 3:1-10 corrects both of these heresies. The wording is extremely important.
1John 3:6 (KJV) says: Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. “Abideth,” means to “remain,” or “continue.” The idea is that it is impossible for a Christian to commit sin while “remaining” or “abiding” in Jesus. That concept sounds very foreign to most of us who learned early in our Christian life that a person is either “in Christ” or not. We don’t see ourselves being in and out of Jesus—it’s an all-or-nothing deal.
The Bible, however, paints a different picture. In Galatians, Christians are strongly admonished to walk in the Spirit to avoid yielding to the sinful nature:
Gal. 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Rom. 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Gal. 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
When John writes, “…whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him” (1Jn. 3:6b, KJV), the word translated “sinneth” is a Present Active Participle in the Greek. “Whosoever sinneth” literally translates “whoever continues to sin…” —meaning, whoever continues in a lifestyle of sin does not really know Jesus, and never has.
Verses 8-9, then, builds on that truth by explaining that genuinely saved, born-again followers of Jesus Christ can be recognized by their lifestyle. They will not continue in a sinful lifestyle (8, 9). After all, Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (8).
1John 3:10 follows the same use of the Present Active Participle as verses 8-9. “Anyone who does not do what is right “ should be translated “Anyone who does not continue in doing right…” Verse 10 provides the following practical application of verses 6-9. When any believer encounters a community of professing believers in Jesus Christ (a local church), a two-part test can quickly determine if that church is truly Christian:
1) Does the church turn a blind eye to members (and leaders) who continue in a sinful lifestyle?
2) Do the people in this church demonstrate a consistent love for one another?