When I first started reading the Holy Bible, I was very puzzled by the first epistle of John. In the first chapter he says "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8) But in the third chapter, he says "Whoever abides in Him does not sin." (1 John 3:6) and "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." (1 John 3:9)
It didn't make sense to me that John would contradict himself so I asked other believers what they thought that it meant. Nobody could give me an answer that satisfied me.
I have read statements by theologians who claimed that it is possible for a believer to reach a spiritual level where they do not sin any more. They base this on the third chapter of this epistle but what they say does not make sense because John does not mention any exceptions to his statement in the first chapter, i.e. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Recently, I was contacted by a person who was convinced that it is possible for a believer to reach a spiritual level that would make them completely free from sinning. He proved this by quoting 1 John 3:6 and 1 John 3:9.
My response was that this didn't make sense due to 1 John 1:8 but I didn't have a satisfactory explanation for the apparent discrepancy between this verse and the verses in chapter 3.
So I started praying sincerely about this apparent discrepancy as I read this 3rd chapter. After several days it occurred to me that the theme of this chapter is "willful sin". John points out that it is impossible for a believer to willfully commit a sin that they know will hurt another person. This fitted my own experience of repentance and faith in Christ.
John says "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:14,15) A person who willfully hurts another person must hate that person.
Verse 9 makes perfect sense when you consider this context. A believer might hurt another person in a fit of emotion or anger or by being selfish or thoughtless; but a believer will not willfully hurt another person. And if a believer does sin against another person they will eventually repent for it.
When a person receives complete faith in Christ, it is as John says: "His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin" (1 John 3:9).
It is the same idea that Paul talks about in Romans 7: "with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:25). He says that, when he sins, "it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:17).
The wording of 1 John 3:9 is better in the King James Version . "Whosoever is born of God doth not COMMIT sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
And the word "commit" is a translation of the Greek word "poieo" which means "to do". So John is saying that, if a person is a believer, they will not "do sin".
So, when John says that a believer "cannot sin" because he has been born of God, Obviously he is talking about willful sin or else he is contradicting what he said in 1 John 1:8.
What does John mean by "Whoever has been born of God does not sin" ? (1 John 3:9) Copyright © 2012 by Compass Distributors
Except for one scripture from the King James Version, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.), 1982