ONE BORN OF GOD CANNOT SIN
- Read I John 3:9.
- Definition of terms:
- Commit: “Of a continuous habit, practice. The committal of an act is not in view in that passage.” (W.E. Vine).
- “To keep, carry out, practice” (Arndt & Gingrich).
- “Cannot keep on sinning” (Expositor's Greek New Testament).
- Does not go on sinning. “He keeps purifying himself” (I John 3:3). “He is constantly busy sweeping out sin” (Lenski).
- “An act is different from a state of sin” (Pulpit Commentary).
- We partake of the characteristics of the parent.
- From father's consideration, beget.
- From mother's consideration, bring forth, born.
- We partake of the characteristics of the parent.
- To be able:
- Intrinsically and absolutely.
- Some things we do not have the power to do. It is a physical impossibility.
- We cannot change things which have happened. It is not possible to turn back the clock.
- Circumstances do not favor it.
- Forbidden by law or custom. Example: Rob a bank; drive on the wrong side of the road.
- Restrained by moral obligation or standard.
- Cannot be done without forfeiting the promises, blessings, and fellowship of God.
- Is the thought: It is a physical impossibility to sin? A Christian cannot do wrong? He possesses absolute perfection? He cannot fall from grace? He has eternal security and cannot loose it?
- Common sense in the reading of the Bible helps one arrive at the truth:
- Common sense tells us that one who is a child of God can lie, steal, and get drunk.
- Common sense tells us that he can do the same things after he becomes a Christian that he could do before he became a Christian.
- Common sense tells us that God saves only those, responsible before Him, who choose to be saved—that he does not force or coerce us to be Christians.
- Common sense teaches us not bring a passage of scripture into conflict with another passage.
- I John 3:9 is not in conflict with: “If we say we have no sin ...” (I John 1:8–10).
- I John 3:9 is not in conflict with: “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin, And if anyone sins ...” (I John 2:1–2).
- I John 3:9 is not in conflict with: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4).
- Analysis of the Passage
- John is not saying that it is a physical impossibility to commit an act of sin, or eve to turn back to sinning.
- God does not tell us we cannot do things that we cannot do.
- God forbids us and tells us that we cannot do certain things because he knows we cannot do them.
- This prohibition (cannot) is in common use in our everyday lives. We forbid our children to do things we know they are can do.
- In God's word, the expression, cannot, does not always mean a physical restriction, or the lack of power or ability.
- “the lad cannot leave his father” (Genesis 44:22).
- “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:23).
- “I could not go beyond the word of the Lord” (Numbers 22:18).
- “For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it” (Judges 11:35).
- “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come” (Luke 14:20).
- Sometimes the expression, cannot, does mean physical limitation.
- “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
- “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
- “Who can forgive sins but God” (Luke 5:21)?
- “So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not” (Luke 9:40).
- There are some things which God's people cannot do without violating His law, incurring His wrath, and suffering the consequences.
- The lesson for us:
- It is not that we cannot commit sin or turn back into a world of sin (II Peter 2:20–22).
- The child of God cannot afford to practice sin.
- He is like His Father—has been begotten by Him.
- He is a new creature and a new creation and sustains a new relationship (II Corinthians 5:17).
- He has put off the old man put on the new (Ephesians 4:20-23).
- Put away.
- Be renewed.
- Put on.
- You must adopt a new attitude of mine and heart. Mentally and spiritually you must be remade.
- The practice of sin is inconsistent with the high standard of calling of the Christian life.
- The seed remains in Him.
- The seed is the word of God (I John 1:10; 2:5; 2:14).
- It is the truth (I John 1:8; I Peter 1:23; James 1:18).
- A seed has life in it (Hebrews 4:12).
- The word is the means by which the Spirit makes alive, keeps alive, and by which He works (I Thessalonians 2:13).
- Will you let the word of God change your life so that you will not continue to practice sin?
ONE BORN OF GOD CANNOT SIN
“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (I John 3:9). This is considered to be one of the difficult passages in the Bible, but it becomes understandable, and rather simple, if we approach it having given attention to these three principles: (1) the definition of terms, (2) the examination of it in the light of the context, and (3) the harmonizing of it with the plain passages of scripture in other places in the Bible upon the same subject.
The Meaning of Commit
Although there of some ten different words in the New Testament which are translated commit, this word is from poieo and is used 576 times in the New Testament. Its primary meaning is to do.
Here is how the scholars define it as it is used in I John 3:9:
“Of a continuous habit, practice. The committal of an act is not in view in that passage” (W.E. Vine).
“To keep, carry out, practice” (Arndt & Gingrich).
“Cannot keep sinning.” (I John 3:9); (Expositor's Greek New Testament).
“Does not go on sinning.” “He keeps purifying himself” (I John 3:3). “Is constantly busy sweeping out sin” (Lenski).
“An act is different for a state of sin” (Pulpit Commentary).
“Does not sin habitually and characteristically” (Barnes).
The Meaning of Beget
The word for begotten or born, gennoao, is used 97 times in the New Testament and the word from which it comes, ginnomai, is used 677 times. It includes the begetting and the bringing forth. When used of men, it means “to beget or generate;” when used of women, it means “to bring forth, to bear, give birth to.”
In this passage, I John 3:9, it is picture language, or figurative language, to tell of one who has been converted, or has become a Christian. The grammar of this expression in the verse is “having been begotten.” As a child partakes of the characteristics of the parents, so the child of God, the Christian, partakes of the characteristics of the heavenly parent.
Jesus asserts that we are “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). Peter, the apostle, writes: “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (I Peter 1:23).
The Meaning of Cannot
The Analytical Greek Lexicon defines the term dunamai which is cannot in our passage as “to be able, either intrinsically or for specific reason.” Bullinger says of the term: “capability or power, as inherent and moral.”
Thayer defines it: “To be able, have power, whether by virtue of one's own ability and resources, or of a state of mind, or through favorite circumstances or by permission of law or custom.”
There are some things that we cannot do intrinsically and absolutely. Physically, we cannot move the earth out of its orbit. Spiritually, we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born again of water and of the Spirit (John 3:5). Those are absolute impossibilities!
It is not possible to change things that have happened. We cannot turn back the clock. Time moves inexorably on, regardless of the depth of our wish that things would remain much the same. There are some things we cannot do because circumstances do not favor it. I cannot go to London today because circumstances of time and other obligations prevent it.
Resources, or the lack of them, often cause me to say, “I cannot.” “I cannot buy a new home.” Why? My resources will not permit it! There are other meanings and applications of the word cannot. One cannot do certain things because he is forbidden by law or custom. “I cannot rob a bank.” I may have the physical power to do so. I may have an arsenal of guns and
ammunition. There could be a number of accomplices who would be willing to help me. It is within the realm of corporal possibility. We may have the cleverness, the expertise, the courage, or foolhardiness, and the technical ability to walk into a bank with a gun and tools and rob it of a million dollars. But we cannot do it because we are forbidden by law.
I make the statement that in the United States I cannot drive on the left side of the street in my automobile. In actuality, I can. There is nothing to prevent me from physically doing it, provided that side of the street is clear of traffic, but I cannot do it because the law forbids it. There is a traffic rule that disallows it. It is taboo. With that proscription goes a penalty for violation of the law.
There are other reasons why I cannot do certain things. I am restrained by moral standards and obligations. I cannot get drunk on alcohol. In actuality, I can! I cannot lie. But, I can! I cannot steal. There is no doubt that I have the physical capacity of doing all these things, but from a moral standpoint all of these things are not permissible. Moral law outlaws them and, for a Christian particularly, such things are not only unlawful, but they are illicit, unauthorized, unlicensed, and a violation of God's law. God, a long time ago, vetoed this kind of behavior.
There is an extension of this sense of not being able to do certain things. I cannot do some things without forfeiting the promises of God to me, without losing His fellowship, and the fellowship of my Christian friends and without suffering the loss of God's blessings He pledges to His children. One who lies, steals, murders, and commits adultery will forfeit the inheritance and be divested of the promise of heaven that God has assured the faithful.
What is the Thought in This Passage
What is the thought in this passage? Is John saying that it is a physical impossibility to sin? Is he affirming that the Christian, saved by the blood of Christ, cannot do any wrong? Is this an inspired assertion of absolute perfection of the Christian? Is he laying down a premise that the Christian cannot fall from grace? Is this an avowal or a declaration on the part of the apostle John
that the Christian has eternal security and that there is no way for that guarantee to be nullified? These are questions which arise out of a misunderstanding of the passage, and questions that must be answered by the proper handling of the Scriptures.
Common sense in reading the word of God will help one arrive at a knowledge of the truth. I do not speak of logical arguments in and of itself. Mere dialectics is not the answer to the proper understanding of the word of God; but with the study and knowledge of God's word on a particular subject, rational deduction and reasonableness are necessary ingredients.
There is no doubt but that God intends that the Christian use sound reasoning and right thinking in his search for truth. When we read and carefully consider all that God has said upon a subject, we will find His interpretation to be forcible, clear, and incisive.
On subjects that have to do with salvation, life, and godliness, not only is it clear and unambiguous, but convincing and believable. For instance, common sense tells us that a child of God, who is a free moral agent, can lie and steal and get drunk—just like he may have done before he became a Christian. Common sense tells us that a man can do the same things after he is a Christian that he did before becoming one. Otherwise, he would be robbed of will power and would become a robot.
God accepts only a willing service rendered out of a heart of love. That which is performed mechanically never receives His approval or acceptance.
In reading the Bible, it, along with our common sense, tells us that God saves only those responsible before Him who choose to be saved. He does not force or coerce people to become His children. Common sense teaches us not to bring one passage, or passages, of scripture into conflict with another passage.
In I John the apostle repeatedly makes reference to both the possibility and actuality of sinning: “If we say that we have no sin ...” (I John 1:8–10). “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin ...” (I John 2:1–2).
“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness ...” (I John 3:4). And there are many others which declare substantially the same thing.
Analysis of the Passage
John is not telling us that it is a physical, material, absolute, impossibility for a child of God to commit an act of sin. Nor is he saying the Christian cannot turn back to a life of sinning. You must know already that God does not tell us that we cannot do things which He knows we cannot do. God forbids us, or tells us we cannot do certain things because he knows it is possible for us do them.
This is the common, everyday use we make of the word. I never told my children, in their growing up, that they could not do certain things that I knew they could not do! I, rather, said to them: “You cannot” do certain things because I knew they could and, in all likelihood, would do them and, many times, they did!
On occasions, I said to them: “You cannot stay out on school nights until midnight.” But they could and, unless we strictly kept our word, they were prone to try our restrictive rules!
“You cannot go to that kind of school party,” I said. Sure enough, they could! It is true that they would suffer the consequences, but it was not impossible for them to plan, decide, and then carry out their intentions.
Physical Restriction Not Always Meant
Lack of power or ability or physical restriction on the part of a Christian is not the thing under consideration in those passages wherein the term cannot be found. Sometimes, however, it does mean an utter responsibility. Let me give you some examples: “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
“And where I am you cannot come” (John 7:34). In this case there is no alternate choice. There is no option, no loophole, and no elective. There is not the slightest possibility of your going where Jesus is unless you believe that He is the Son of God, and all else that is implied in that statement.
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Not only is Jesus saying that this is beyond the bounds of possibility, but he is also saying this is completely hopeless. There is no way for you to get into the kingdom of God unless you are born again of water and of the Spirit.
Physical restraint and limitations are under consideration most of the time, but not always. In so many of God's commands, moral and spiritual bounds are what He has in mind. His restraints and qualifications have do with the sin of violating His law. Let me give you some simple examples: Moses said: “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:21–23). Well, of course, they could! But there were reasons why they could not: (1) Moses charged them not to come up and (2) “Lest they break through ... and many of them perish.”
Balaam said to the servants of Balak: “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God ...” (Numbers 22:18). You know that he could and did go beyond the word of the Lord, but he knew he could not do it without breaking the law, without offending God, without open defiance of His instruction, without incurring His wrath and without forfeiting His blessings. He was not speaking of a physical impossibility, but of a moral violation that would incur God's wrath.
Jephtah said: “For I have given my word to the Lord and I cannot go back on it” (Judges 11:35). In the first place, he should have never made such a foolish, rash promise as to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house upon his return from a successful journey. This shows how foolish, absurd, and empty one can be in his deportment. You might admire him for fulfilling his promise, but he was foolhardy to make any such promise in the first place. There are many promises you can make to God that are reasonable and that have real significance
The brothers of Joseph said to him concerning his request that Benjamin be brought down into Egypt on their next trip: “The lad cannot leave his father” (Genesis 44:22). Of course, he could leave his father, and he did leave his father. They were not
talking about an absolute impossibility. Their qualification was, “The lad cannot leave his father ... his father would die.”
The Lesson for Us
John is not in any way intimating that a child of God cannot sin, or even that he cannot turn back into the world from whence he came. He is telling Christians that they cannot keep on doing (practicing) sin without violating God's will, incurring His wrath, and giving up their hope of heaven. Such would not be compatible with the Christian life to which they had been called. This would be entirely out of harmony with the standard God has set for His people. It is not a single sin which might be committed inadvertently, or even purposely, that John is here discussing. It is the continuous or habitual sinning he has in mind.
One who has become a Christian does not continue to live as he lived when he was in the world. He is a new creature with his heart set on higher things than are found in this world.
This is the same truth Peter emphasizes in his writings: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’ ” (II Peter 2:20–22).
John is telling us that we cannot do this and be consistent with God's revealed will; we would not thus reflect the goodness and purity of God and of His standard for us and we would lose our reward; and we would be divested of the glorious blessings the Lord has in store for those who live righteously, godly, and self–controlled lives in this world.
The child of God cannot afford to practice sin. He is like the Father, having been begotten of Him. He is a new creation, and he sustains a new relationship. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17). He has put off the
old man and has put on the new man. “... that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:21–23). Paul is here instructing and charging the Ephesian Christians to put off the old man once for all—a definite and decisive break with the former way of living. And John, in our context, is telling us there is a continuous renewal. This instruction is three–fold: (1) put away, (2) be renewed, and (3) put on. The putting on of the new man is in the middle voice, the grammarians of the New Testament language tell us. That simply means that this is something we do for ourselves. That is, we are able to do these things. They are not done for us by God, or by anyone else.
These are things which we have the ability and responsibility of doing. You must adopt a new attitude of mind. Mentally and spiritually, you must be remade and you have a part with God in that remodeling of yourself. It takes effort on your part.
The practice of sin is inconsistent with the high standard and calling of the Christian life. There is help, however, for the Christian to maintain this way of life. John said: “The seed remains in you.” That is, the word of God is in our hearts and it works powerfully and effectually and energetically in the life of the Christian (II Thessalonians 2:13).
The seed, you must know, is the word of God. Read these verses from I John: 1:10; 2:5; and 2:14. The seed is the truth. Read also I Peter 1:23 where the apostle declares we are born of the incorruptible seed which is the word of God. And James 1:18 will help you in understanding the part the word of God has in the influence, direction, and shaping of our inner man.
A seed has life in it. Thus, the word of God is a living power. It is the means by which the Spirit quickens, makes us alive, and keeps us alive. The word of God is that tool or instrument by which the Spirit works in our lives.
Will you allow the word to change your life and live in you so that you may not continue to practice sin?