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Does the Bible Say True Christians Never Sin?

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  • Does the Bible Say True Christians Never Sin?

    by John Piper

    We dip into the Ask Pastor John podcast inbox. “Pastor John, my name is Jake from Mexico. What does 1 John 5:18 mean?” End of question. And I’ll go ahead and read the text from the ESV: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” Pastor John what does this mean?

    I am not sure what part of this verse Jake is stumbling over. There are three he could stumble over.
    • One could be: “Those born of God do not keep on sinning.” What does that mean?
    • A second would be: “He who is born of God protects them.” What does that mean?
    • A third would be: “The evil one does not touch him.” Whoa. Really? What does that mean?


    So I am not sure which of those three he is stumbling over, so maybe I better say a word about each one.

    And what I am thinking is maybe Jake is reading the King James Authorized Version or the New American Standard Version of that first clause, because it is even more perplexing. It says: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” That is the King James. Or the New American Standard says: “We know that no one who is born of God sins.” So I would join Jake, if I read those, and say, “Huh. Really? Christians don’t sin?”

    That sounds truly problematical: Christians never sin. I met a woman one time who did believe that. She threw 1 John 5:18 and 1 John 3:9 at me. And I asked, “Well, what do you call the bad things you do?”

    And she had invented a lot of names for her sins, like: mistakes and flaws and shortcomings and imperfections, but she was adamant. I don’t sin.

    Now the ESV is right to translate “we know that everyone who has been born of God” — and then it translates — “does not keep on sinning,” which helps a little bit, maybe. First John 3:9 has the same issue: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning for God’s seed abides in him and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

    Now I could pull rank with Greek here — which I will — and then I will back up and say that is not the key issue. The idea of the Greek present tense [ἁμαρτάνει / ἁμαρτάνειν] which is being used is that those who are born again, and have the Spirit of God in them, cannot ever make peace with sin, settle in with sin, make sin a friend, be okay with sinning, just go on sinning as though no war needs to be made against it, and nothing will come of it if we do. The present tense says: No, you can’t do that, you can’t make a practice of sinning like that.

    But if you don’t know Greek, you don’t have to trust me at this point, because there are a couple of other reasons why non-Greek readers know that this text does not mean that Christians don’t ever do anything wrong.

    First John 5:16, two verses earlier: “If anyone sees his brother” — a Christian — “committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life.” So he can’t mean that Christians don’t sin, because he just gave instruction for how to help Christians who do sin.

    The same thing is true in 1 John 1:8–10. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

    So in the meaning of 1 John 5:18, I think here in the context, the first and obvious meaning would be: The one who is born of God does not sin unto death; that is, we don’t make peace with sin, settle into a pattern of sinning that will destroy us in the end, prove that we are not truly born of God and are not truly Christians. Christians walk in the light and, according to 1 John 1:8–10, walking in the light is not sinlessness. It is walking in a way that you have eyes to see in the light the ugliness of what you just did and you are sorry for it. You confess it. You keep short accounts with God and you move on. So I think “does not sin” means (1) doesn’t commit the sin unto death and (2) doesn’t settle into a pattern of sinning that proves you have no spiritual life in you.

    Second issue: “He who is born of God protects him.” I think that means that Christ — who is called the one born of God, the only begotten of God, the eternally virgin born Spirit, but born by the Spirit Son of God, Christ — guards us from the devil. He intercedes for us and he is with us to the end of the age helping us. And his blood covers us and keeps us safe from Satan’s accusations because none of them can hold, because Christ has died for us.

    Third issue: “The evil one does not touch him.” The devil’s accusations and temptations and harassments can hurt us terribly, but they can never destroy us. There is no deadly touch. There is no poisonous bite. His fangs were removed at the cross, and his lethal poison is taken away from believers. He cannot destroy us.

    So I take “cannot touch us” to mean can’t touch us with any deadly touch. He can hurt us terribly. I don’t want to minimize Satan’s realty in this world. He can throw us in prison and he can move others to kill us, according to Revelation 2:10, but he can’t hurt us ultimately. He can’t touch us with the touch of destruction and damnation. That has been taken out of his hand by the blood of Jesus. Jesus did that when he died on the cross according to Colossians 2:15. He disarmed the principalities and powers when he died and shed his blood.

    So the only begotten of God is, indeed, our perfect and everlasting protector.

  • #31
    Originally posted by David Lee View Post
    The problem with that formula is that our progenitor's "mortal sin" was taking a bite out of an apple. I don't see that one in St. Paul's list, and if taking a bite out of an apple is "mortal", and is so bad that it caused the spiritual death of the entire human race, what lesser sins (than taking a bite out of an apple) can you come up with to list as "venial"?
    Sorry to cut in slightly, but isn't there a slight distinction to be made here? The action was taking a bite from an apple, but the sin was disobeying God's command.

    I know the Catholic distinction between venal and mortal sin seems to be based on the ten commandments, but it isn't something I am that familiar with.

    Comment


    • #32
      Originally posted by ChatterBox View Post
      Sorry to cut in slightly, but isn't there a slight distinction to be made here? The action was taking a bite from an apple, but the sin was disobeying God's command.

      I know the Catholic distinction between venal and mortal sin seems to be based on the ten commandments, but it isn't something I am that familiar with.
      Hi CB, yes, our progenitors' sin was disobedience, which I believe was a big part of my point. ALL sins are disobedient acts against a Holy God. Our RC friends however, make a distinction between a sin/disobedience that is truly "grievous" (and therefore "mortal"), and a sin/disobedience that is not so grievous (called "venial"). Murder vs a white lie, or something like that.

      My point was/is, if the disobedient act of taking a bite out of an apple is a "mortal" sin, so grievous, in fact, that it caused the death of the entire human race, what sinful/disobedient act is there that could possibly be described as "venial" then?? (because how much further away from "GRIEVOUS" can you get than taking a bite out of an apple?)

      Hope that helps explain it. In a nutshell, I don't believe there are venial sins, just mortal sins (as I believe the apple in the Garden does a pretty good job of demonstrating), though there is another "kind" of mortal sin, a sin that, once committed, will never be forgiven .. Matthew 12:31-32.

      Yours and His,
      David
      Simul Justus et Peccator

      "We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone" ~John Calvin

      "The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us." ~CS Lewis

      "The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances" ~Elisabeth Elliot

      "The law is for the self-righteous to humble their pride; the Gospel is for the lost to remove their despair. ~Charles H. Spurgeon

      Comment


      • #33
        Originally posted by David Lee

        Hi CB, yes, our progenitors' sin was disobedience, which I believe was a big part of my point. ALL sins are disobedient acts against a Holy God. Our RC friends however, make a distinction between a sin/disobedience that is truly "grievous" (and therefore "mortal"), and a sin/disobedience that is not so grievous (called "venial"). Murder vs a white lie, or something like that.

        My point was/is, if the disobedient act of taking a bite out of an apple is a "mortal" sin, so grievous, in fact, that it caused the death of the entire human race, what sinful/disobedient act is there that could possibly be described as "venial" then?? (because how much further away from "GRIEVOUS" can you get than taking a bite out of an apple?)

        Hope that helps explain it. In a nutshell, I don't believe there are venial sins, just mortal sins (as I believe the apple in the Garden does a pretty good job of demonstrating), though there is another "kind" of mortal sin, a sin that, once committed, will never be forgiven .. Matthew 12:31-32.

        Yours and His,
        David

        I don't remember their being a sin-ranking system in the Bible myself.

        Comment


        • #34
          Does the Bible Say True Christians Never Sin? Good article William.

          To those who insist that a Christian never sins I offer the following examples for you to consider.

          Galatians 2:13
          The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. (NASB)
          1. Was Peter a Christian at the time of his "hypocrisy" from which he would later command Christians to avoid (1 Peter 2:1)?

          Revelation 19:10
          Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (NASB)
          1. In the above passage the Apostle John falls to the sin of idolatry.
          2. Because he had sinned the angel immediately told John that he shouldn't do that. Notice however what the angel did not say to him:
          a. I (once) was a fellow servant of yours.
          b. I used to be a fellow servant of yours.
          The angel did respond by saying, I am a fellow servant of yours.
          This means that despite John's sin he still belonged with the other members of God's community as a fellow servant.

          Comment


          • #35
            Originally posted by wfredeemed009 View Post
            I don't remember their being a sin-ranking system in the Bible myself.
            The Jews of that time period who "delivered" Christ up to Pilate committed the "greater sin" (John 19:11; cf. Acts 3:13, 17).

            See also Luke 12:47-48.

            Comment


            • #36
              It's foolhardy to believe that once someone becomes a Christian they are above sinning. We are human beings and the Bible tells us we are not perfect but that doesn't mean we may go on deliberately sinning and then we ask for forgiveness. Life makes allowances for accidents and that's why when there is accident persons are not charged for murder because it was a mishap. The thing to do is to seek to avoid the mishaps as much as possible but God will know when whatever happened may not have been intentional.

              Comment

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