Question Time - Does the first part of 1 John chapter 3 verse 8 teach us that a Christian will never sin?

Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

QUESTION
Does the first part of 1 John chapter 3 verse 8 teach us that a Christian will never sin?


ANSWER
In responding to the above question it may help to quote what the verse actually says and then to contrast that with what it does not say. The opening clause of the verse reads ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil’. What John did not write was ‘He that committeth a sin is of the devil’. The difference between these two statements in actual wording is very small; it is merely the inclusion of the indefinite article ‘a’ in the second quotation. However, the difference in meaning between the two statements is vast.
 
If the second quotation was what John wrote or meant, then there would be no one who could claim to be saved, for the sad reality is that all of us sin from time to time. In the fifth verse of his hymn At even when the sun was set, Henry Twells wrote:  

‘And none, O Lord, have perfect rest, 
For none are wholly free from sin; 
And they who fain would serve Thee best, 
Are conscious most of wrong within’. 

Whilst we read in 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 15, ‘But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation’, the scriptures never anticipate that we shall achieve a status of impeccability whilst we are ‘at home in the body’, 2 Cor. 5. 6.
 
The opening verse of 1 John chapter 2 is very relevant to the matter now being considered. There we read, ‘My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’. The expectation is that we should not sin but, thankfully, there is provision made for when we do, for we have ‘an advocate with the Father’. In his commentary on 1 John, A. M. S. Gooding states that John’s ‘word is clear and unambiguous “that ye sin not” or “that ye may not sin” (Revised Version). His words were to preserve them from sinning; they were both preventative and prohibitive. Believers are not expected to sin, it should be an exceptional, unusual occurrence’. 
 
Whilst sinning ought not to be the habitual practice of Christians, when we do fail we have an Advocate. The aforementioned commentary adds, ‘This Advocate does not excuse sin, explain it away, try to justify our actions, or argue extenuating circumstances. He is righteous, He deals righteously, and He has a sacrifice as a righteous basis for His advocacy’.
 
The verse referred to in the question stands in contrast to the verse that precedes it, for verse 7 of chapter 3 reads, ‘Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous’. John is teaching that people either belong to God or to the devil and one way of determining to whom they belong is by observing their life-style. Those who are the children of God will be characterized by righteous living; they will seek to live purely, for God is pure. The norm of their daily life is to live a holy life. In contrast, those who habitually sin manifest the fact that they do not know God. John sums all this up in verse 10, ‘In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God’.
 
The King James Version translation of verse 9 would also seem to show that a Christian will never sin, but all verses must be viewed contextually. The point that John is driving at in this section of chapter 3 is one of life style, of the continual repetitive behaviour of a person, their habitual practice. A child of God will not, as a rule of life, sin. Darby’s translation of the verse gives help, as does the ESV, ‘Whoever has been begotten of God does not practise sin’, JND; ‘No one born of God makes a practice of sinning’, ESV.
 
Philip Paul Bliss died when only 38 years old through a tragic accident, but in that short life he wrote a number of hymns. It is fitting to close this answer with a verse from one of them,

'More purity give me, 
More strength to o’ercome; 
More freedom from earth-stains, 
More longings for home; 
More fit for the kingdom, 
More used would I be; 
More blessèd and holy, 
More, Saviour, like Thee’. 

AUTHOR PROFILE: RICHARD COLLINGS is a trustee of Precious Seed and writes the ‘Question Time’ page of the magazine.

There are 21 articles in
ISSUE (2019, Volume 74 Issue 3)

1 and 2 Chronicles

An Assembly of the Lord’s people will be a people among whom ... Discipline is Exercised - Part 4

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - The Righteous Man - Part 7

Cover Image

Editorial ‘A brother beloved’, Philem. 10. What a difference salvation brings! 

Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819 – 1886)

Paul the Priest - The Pouring Out of the Drink Offering - Part 3

Question Time - Does the first part of 1 John chapter 3 verse 8 teach us that a Christian will never sin?

TheSon of God His Incarnation

Tanzania - A land of many opportunities to serve the Lord - Part 2

The Chronology of Revelation - Chapters 21 and 22 - Part 2

The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 6

The Gospel of Mark - Part 7

The Logos School – Cyprus

The Messianic Jewish Epistles: An Exposition of Hebrews,  James, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude

The Messianic Psalms - Psalm 69

The slaughter of the innocents Matthew chapter 2

The Twelve Tribes of Israel - Dan

Website Reviews

When Christians roamed the earth

Word for Today - Agape

This article is not part of a series

There are 46 articles by this author

Question Time

Question Time

Question Time

Question Time

An Introduction to a Study of Future Events

Question Time

Question TIme - Why do I find it hard to spend time in prayer?

Question - Will there be different levels of reward for believers?

Question - Is it wrong for a woman to cut her hair?

Question Time - Does the Bible specify a dress code for the meetings?

Question TIme - Should there be a minimum age set for those requesting baptism?

Question TIme - What is scriptural marriage?

Question TIme - Should elders discuss matters relating to oversight with their wives?

Recognising Elders

Question TIme - Can I use my natural skills in the service of the Lord?

Question TIme - Does the teaching of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 2-16 apply only to assembly gat

Question TIme - Is it wrong for a Christian to be cremated?

Question Time - What guidance does the scripture give regarding organ donation?

Question Time - Are there scriptural grounds to justify leaving one assembly to join another in the

The Final rebellion and the great white throne judgement

An overview of the Lord’s Supper

Question Time

Question Time

The Symbols of Headship

Question Time

Question Time - Why are people leaving assemblies and meeting elsewhere?

Question Time - What is the most effective way of teaching God’s people?

Question Time

Question Time - Should some assemblies consider meeting in a house instead of a hall?

Question Time - Will the church go through the great tribulation?

Question Time - Does the New Testament stipulate what meetings an assembly should convene?

Question Time - Is ill health an evidence of God’s chastening?

Question Time - Why do we worship on a Sunday and not on the seventh day?

Question TIme

Question Time - Is it appropriate for assemblies to donate to non-Christian charities?

Question Time - What advice can be offered to a couple who cannot have children?

Question Time

Question Time

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Question Time

Question Time - Is it wrong for a Christian to go out with someone who is not saved?

What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 2 ‘I will come again’

Question Time

What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 4 - ‘I will come again’

Question Time - Is it essential that an assembly should convene a weekly gospel meeting?

Question Time - Does the first part of 1 John chapter 3 verse 8 teach us that a Christian will never sin?