We Cannot Sin, 1 Jn 3:1-10

1 John 3:1-10 is a passage that is often misunderstood because of v.9, “Whosever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remained in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”.  If we can come to the correct understanding of this verse, the rest of the passage makes sense.  So, we’re going to deal with v.9 first and then begin at v.1 to expound the passage.

Of v.9 there are myriad interpretations.

  • One interpretation, from those who look to the Greek for their authority, is that the word “commit” means he “keeps on committing” or he “habitually” sins or practices sins.  So, a real Christian doesn’t continually keep committing the same sin over and over.  But look at Ex 20:14; Matt 5:27-28; Matt 19:18.  Commit means to carry into action deliberately.  It has nothing to do with whether you do it once or more than once.
  • Another interpretation, from those of us who believe in the spirit, soul and body, is that these verses mean that the “new man” can’t sin because that’s what is born of God.  While this is true, I don’t believe that’s what John is addressing here.  You don’t see him dealing with the old man and the new man in this epistle.
  • Another interpretation comes from some holiness people who would have you believe that they literally don’t sin anymore.  They say that they are now sinless.
  • Another interpretation comes from those who say that if a person is still committing certain kinds of sin, he never was saved in the first place.

I don’t believe that any of these four interpretations is correct.  These are attempts to understand the verse based upon what people already believe or what they already know.

To understand the verse we must know how John is using the word “cannot”.  We often read it to mean that it is impossible for a person born of God to sin.  In fact, the word “cannot” can mean absolutely not, like Jn 3:3, 3:5, for instance. 

However, in 1 Jn 3:9 “cannot sin” is used in the same way that “cannot” is used in the following verses: Matt 21:27 we cannot tell.  It was possible.  Mk 2:19 they cannot fast.  It was possible.  Lk 11:7 I cannot rise.  He could and eventually did.  

So, John is not saying that a person born of God cannot possibly sin.  Of course he still sins.  Look at 1 Jn 1:8-10.  He’s deceived if he says he has no sin.  

John’s saying, “You’re born of God; you can’t sin”.  A fellow on a diet will say, “I’m on a diet; I can’t eat that pie”.  A father tells his son, “Son, you can’t do that”.  John’s not saying that we can’t possibly commit sin.  He’s saying that when you get saved, you are to quit sinning, 1 Jn 2:1.  You are not to sin.  You cannot sin in the sense that it wouldn’t be right for you to sin.

We cannot sin because:

We are sons of God – 1 Jn 3:1-3.  We are called the sons of God.  What manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us to call us his sons.  This is remarkable considering what we were before.

The world doesn’t know that we are sons of God anymore than they knew Jesus Christ was the Son of God.  They killed him for this.  Though we are now sons of God, it doth not yet appear what we shall be.  No one has appeared in his glorified body yet.  We are going to be like Jesus one day, Rom 8:29.  Thus, we are to purify ourselves even as he is pure, 1 Pet 1:15.  We can’t sin.

Sin is the transgression of the law – 1 Jn 3:4.  Though, in this age of grace, we are not under the law, Paul said, “God forbid” that we should sin, Rom 6:14-15.  In the Tribulation, the saints who have the faith of Jesus also keep the commandments of God, Rev 14:12.  Therefore, they cannot sin because sin is the transgression of the law.

Christ died to take away our sins – 1 Jn 3:5.  Jesus didn’t just come to die for our sins [1 Pet 2:22-24] and to forgive our sins [Col 1:14].  He came also to take away our sins [Jn 1:29].  There is no sin in Jesus, 2 Cor 5:21, 1 Pet 2:22.  And God doesn’t want sin in his other sons, either.

We abide in Christ – 1 Jn 3:6.  “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not”.  See Jn 15:4-7.  As in the other verses in this passage, if you are one of his and your abide in him, then you can’t sin.  Christ doesn’t want those who abide in him to sin.  Those that commit sin don’t know him.  It’s like saying, “If you had seen him, or if you knew him, you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing”.

We are to do righteousness – 1 Jn 3:7-8.  See 1 Jn 2:29.  Only people who are born again can do righteousness.  Doing righteousness is impossible for a child of the devil, 1 Jn 3:10.  In the Tribulation, doing righteousness is essential to their salvation.

The devil’s crowd sins because sin is of the devil.  He sinned from the beginning and Jesus was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, Heb 2:14.  So, the sons of God are surely not to do the very things Jesus came to this earth to destroy.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin – 1 Jn 3:9. “He cannot sin, because he is born of God.”  It’s like Jesus saying “sin no more,” [Jn 5:14; 8:11].  We don’t get saved so that we can keep sinning.  Like Peter says in 1 Pet 2:16, “not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness”.

The children of God are manifest – 1 Jn 3:10.  This helps those in Christ to distinguish between the children of God and the children of the devil.  “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him,” [1 Jn 2:29]. 

Therefore, in 1 Jn 3:10, the children of God are manifest; they do righteousness.  They keep 1 Jn 3:23, for example.  Children of the devil are also manifest in that they do not righteousness.  They don’t keep 1 Jn 3:23, nor do they love the brethren.

The children of the devil are of the world and hate the children of God.  To “know” the difference between children of God and children of the devil, check their fruits Lk 6:43-45… good tree bringeth forth not corrupt fruit; neither corrupt tree bring forth good fruit; a good man brings forth good; an evil man brings forth evil, like Cain, 1 Jn 3:12.

Like the difference between the Pharisees and the disciples.  You could easily tell them apart on two things. The Pharisees rejected Jesus Christ and they hated the disciples.  They “killed” Jesus like Cain killed Abel.

Conclusion: If a child of God is living in sin, you aren’t going to know whether he’s saved or lost.  But when he’s abiding in Christ, when he does works meet for repentance [Acts 26:20], when he quits his sinning, when he loves the brethren, and so forth, then it is manifest that he is a child of God.

To study the previous lesson, see Antichrists. To study the next lesson, see How We Know.