Could you possibly explain 1 John 3:6-10 to me? We studied it at church last night and many people weighed in and the general consensus was that a true believer cannot continue in sin habitually. It is proof that he never knew God in the first place. What are your thoughts?
Good question and great passage! The idea that someone who habitually sins is not saved is a common view. Theologically, it’s the position of thoroughgoing Calvinists. Yet, some who hold this position do not embrace the system of Calvinism and dogmatically insist they are not Calvinists.
Before we investigate the passage itself, I want to practically address the issue of habitual sin and not being saved. How are we to measure and positively identify “habitual” sin? Once a day…is that habitual? Can sinning occur less frequently and still qualify? Typically, a judgment based on habit, the frequency of occurrence, gives way to an arbitrary categorization of sins where repeated instances of a gross variety are deemed habitual while recurrences of any “lesser” sin are not. The thinking is if you commit the grosser sins, you’re lost. But, if you’ve just been bitter for twenty years, you’re okay! With this, the position gets quite foggy, and any reasonable, honest assessment of the habitual sin argument would lead us to think that no one is saved!
So what is the meaning of the passage from 1 John 3? Let’s consider it with a few grammatical clarifications and comments.
Verse 6a: “Whosoever abideth [abides/is abiding] in him sinneth not [does not sin].”
In moments of abiding in Christ (God-dependence), Christ, in turn, abides in you (Spirit-enabling). You access Christ in you and so, by His victorious life, you do not sin. This verse does not say that whoever is in Christ does not sin, but rather whoever abides in Christ does not sin.
Verse 6b: “Whosoever sinneth [sins/is sinning] hath not seen him, neither known him.”
The word known is the word meaning to know experientially. When you sin, it is because you are not looking unto Jesus, and thus you have not “seen” Jesus. Without God-focus, there is no God-dependence—you’re not abiding. When you don’t abide, you don’t access the indwelling Christ, and so you haven’t “known” Him experientially in those moments. Although you know Him as your Savior, by not abiding, you are not knowing Him as Sanctifier.
Simply put, when you sin, you are not abiding. You’re not looking unto Jesus (seeing Him). Therefore, you’re not depending on Him. Consequently, you’re not experiencing (knowing) Him.
Verse 7: “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is [is being (present tense)] righteous, even as he is [is being] righteous.”
When you access the indwelling Christ through abiding as the previous verse emphasizes, you experience the “not I, but Christ” reality by faith. When this is the case, you are being righteous as He is being righteous because in those moments of faith you are accessing the righteous one Himself.
Verse 8: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
If this verse means that if you sin, you’re not saved, then no one would be saved. But every time we sin, we have listened to a lie of the devil in some way. The verse explains that committing sin runs parallel to the “works of the devil” and that sin originates in Satan’s lies.
Verse 9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed [lit. God’s sperma/God’s nature] remaineth [abides] in him: and he [God’s nature implanted in your regenerated spirit] cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
When you were born again, your spirit was regenerated with something of the nature of God. This is the new man created after God in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). The Holy Spirit indwells this part of you. There had to be a part of you made holy so the Holy Spirit could move in. This part of you cannot sin because, obviously, God’s nature in you cannot sin. It’s not just that God’s nature does not habitually sin. His nature cannot sin. Just as obviously, we can ignore this provision and commit sin. But when we abide in Christ, we do not sin (1 John 3:6).
Verse 10: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”
Again, if sinning means you’re not saved, then no one is saved. Since unsaved flesh and saved flesh look exactly alike, things can get confusing. That is why we need to walk in the Spirit (abide). When we yield to the flesh, we follow the devil’s deceptions, and this is manifest. When we yield to the Spirit, we follow God’s truth, and this is manifest.
Abiding in Christ accesses the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit or “evidences” in 1 John are primarily evidences of abiding. I addressed this in a recent post, What Do the Evidences in 1 John Evidence. When the fruit of the Spirit evidences itself in a believer, this life of Jesus manifests the reality of being a child of God.
Obviously, you cannot abide in Christ if you are without Christ, but it is possible to be in Christ and yet be sadly lacking in the matter of abiding in Christ. The passage as a whole brings home the need to abide, for when you abide in Christ, you don’t sin. When you abide in Christ, Christ abides in you, and when Christ abides in you, it’s not you…but Christ—and He doesn’t sin. Abiding allows you to experience the victory of Jesus Himself.
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