Do Christians Sin? Is John Out of His Mind? – A Closer Look at 1 John 3:4-10

Last week (or rather tow weeks ago) we have been looking into John’s encouraging words for those who are children of God. He ended that little discourse (2:28-3:3) with the statement: “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (ESV).
The last post on 1 John was dedicated to 3:4 and we have seen how the apostle (re-) defined sin as rebellion against God. “The one who practices sin” (3:4) is thus in contrast to “the one who practices righteousness” (2:29; cf. Brown, 398). In this verse (i.e., 3:4) the main theme of 2:29-3:10 is resumed and the contrast is established between those who do righteousness and know God and those who rebel against him. Hence the term anomiawhich indicates rebellion. It is interesting to observe that “[i]n the NT anomia as transgression of the law is completely absent” (Kruse, 117).
The contrast is seen in the following parallel (see Kruse, 117; leaning on de la Potterie). The children of God are described in the following ways:
And everyone who has this hope in him makes himself holy, just as he also is holy (v. 3)
No one who abides in him commits sin … (v. 6)
He who does what is just is just (v. 7)
Whoever is born of God does not commit sin … (v. 9)
Whereas the children of the devil in these terms:
Everyone who commits sin commits iniquity also (v. 4)
And no one who sins has seen him, or has known him(v. 6)
He who commits sin is of the devil (v. 8)
Whoever is not just is not of God (v. 10)

The entire pericope (3:4-9) tells us that to be like Christ is to renounce sin (Witherington, 498-99).
John continues to writes (3:5) that Jesus came “to take away sins.” In the Gospel of John we have very similar language (John 1:29): “The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” Kruse maintains that the plural “sins” points to the acts of sin unlike the Pauline reference of the power and force of sin itself (119). Further, “[t] o ‘take away sins’ here is to be understood as making forgiveness available by offering himself as the atoning sacrifice for those sins. Thus the author can say in 1:9 that God, in the light of Jesus’ death (‘his blood’), is both faithful and just when he forgives our sins. Our sins ‘have been forgiven on account of his name’ (2:12). The author can say to his readers that ‘you know’ these things because they stand at the very heart of the gospel message (cf. 4:9–10) which they heard from the beginning” (119).
John also mentions the sinlessness of Christ when he writes: “and in him there is no sin” (other passages which mention Christ’s sinlessness are: Matt 3:14; John 8:44; Acts 2:27; 3:14; 4:30; 7:52; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 1:19; 2:22). Another important point is shown by Kruse: “the affirmation of his sinlessness is introduced in this verse for a practical reason: to provide the basis for an important criterion to be used in assessing the claims of people who say they know God” (120).
The question the interpreter of 3:6 needs to ask what the present tense forms (i.e., ho…menōn and hamrtanein) at the beginning of this sentence indicate. Is the present tense referring to ongoing activity? Or is John speaking radically in dualistic terms (as he does in the entire context)? As we have seen in the previous post, the present tense does not really clarify the issue, since John is writing in very dualistic terms and because of the redefinition of sin in verse 4 before.
His claim that he who sins (most likely a reference to rebellion against God!) does not know God, nor does he actually love Him. It is inconsistent to claim to love God but to be in rebellion to Him. If Jesus is Lord than by definition he has the right to claim our obedience. This obedience is out of love, nevertheless, it is obedience. Personally I think that sometimes we need to do certain things because Christ has commanded us to do so. It is not about me and how I feel, but due to my allegiance to him I obey even if I don’t “feel” like it today!
In 3:7 it seems that those who were deceiving the community were actually not living righteous lives and thus need to be discredited as being children of God. They are inconsistent. They break the coherence “between having fellowship with God and walking in the light (1:5–7), between knowing God and obedience to his word (2:4–6), and between being in the light and loving fellow believers (2:9–11). These earlier allusions to the secessionists’ teachings help us to understand what the author means by ‘doing what is right’; it means walking in the light as God himself is in the light…it involves being obedient to his word (see commentary on 2:4–6) and showing love to fellow believers” (Kruse, 121).
In the next verse (3:8) we see the title “Son of God” appearing for the first time. Here John also envisions the preexistence of him (cf. Witherington, 501)! The “Son of God” appeared to destroy the works of Satan who himself has been sinning (has been in rebellion!) from the beginning. Lyonnet (‘The Notion of Sin in the Johannine Writings’, 44; quoted in Kruse, 122-23) succinctly writes: Just as a Christian lives under the influence of God living in him, so do sinners live under the influence of the devil and allow themselves to be seduced by him. Consequently, just as he who is born of God and in whom God dwells does what God does, or concretely, ‘lives the same kind of life as Christ lived’ (1 Jn 2:6), that of a son of God, so the ‘children of the devil’ can only do what their ‘father wants’ (Jn 8:44), those very deeds which the Son of God came to undo (1 Jn 3:8).”
Those who are children of God are described as those who “do right (2:29), do not sin (3:9; 5:18), love one another (4:7), believe that Jesus is the Christ (5:1), and overcome the world (5:18)” (Kruse, 124).
3:9 brings the next staggering point the apostle makes. Again the “sinlessness” (as defined by rebellion) is reiterated, but here he actually goes further. He claims that the Christian cannot sin! Why is that? Well, because the “seed of God abides in” the believer. J. du Preez (‘“Sperma autou” in 1 John 3:9’, Neot 9 [1975] 105–106) lissts six interpretations to what the “seed of God” might refer to:
1)   Children of God
2)   The proclaimed word of God
3)   Christ
4)   The Holy Spirit
5)   New life from God
6)   The new nature
Kruse shows the following pattern (125):
a    No one who is born of God
b    will continue to sin,
c    because God’s seed remains in him;
b´  he cannot sin,
a´  because he has been born of God
Kruse also makes the following statement: “What is it actually that remains in those born of God that makes it impossible for them to continue in sin? Within 1 John believers are said to have remaining in them (be indwelt by) the gospel message they heard from the beginning (2:24), the anointing/Holy Spirit (2:27), and God himself (3:24; 4:12, 15, 16)” (ibid.). D. Moody Smith remarks: “This work of Christ brings about the birth from God that is freedom from sin, but a freedom that must be ratified by continually willing and doing what is right, as John never tires of urging” (First, Second, and Third John, 86; quoted in Witherington, 507).
Whatever the exact reference of the “seed” is (and the different interpretation need not be exclusive to one another), one thing is obvious: for John the Christian cannot sin! She cannot live her life the way she did before. We are changed from the inside and that will show in our everyday conduct. 
In 3:10 John introduces a new topic which will be treated in the next post. 

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