Lenten devotional, Day 20

I John 1:8-10


8 If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  

9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.  

10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us. 


1 John 3:4-9


4 Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 

6 Every person who remains in relationship to him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him.

7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous. 

8 The person who practices sin belongs to the devil, because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. God’s Son appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil. 

9 Those born from God don’t practice sin because God’s DNA remains in them. They can’t sin because they are born from God.



As you read 1 John 3:4-9, you may be a bit dismayed and wonder: “does John really mean that those born from God don’t sin?”  1 John 3:4-9 raises an apparent contradiction with the argument John made earlier in chapter 1 where he establishes that real Christian living requires an honest acknowledgement of one’s sin.  So everyone sins and must own up to it, but if you’re born of God you can’t sin?  What gives? 


To address this tension, most argue that 3:6-9 refers to those born of God not being able to sin habitually, whereas 1:8-9 is referring to sinning done occasionally.  This argument rests on the use of the present tense forms of the verbs in 3:6-9 stressing an ongoing action.  But the holes in this argument are two-fold:   1. The present tense forms do not say anything about an action being habitual but only say that an action is in progress.   2. The verbs in 1:8-10 are also in their present tense forms. 


The above tension is difficult to resolve.  But perhaps we can come to some sort of helpful understanding by examining John’s tying of sin (hamartia) with rebellion/lawlessness (anomia) made in 3:4:  and sin is rebellion. This is the only use of anomia in the letter.  We should understand this word to refer not to the breaking of laws/rules but to an opposition or rebellion. The use of anomia indicates an identity, a proclivity towards disobedience driven by a natural orientation to sin. John is making a distinction between those “born of God” and those who “belong to the devil” (3:8) who has been sinning since the beginning. 


Essentially, the point John is making is this:  Which family do you belong to?  Whose DNA is in you?  To what tribe do you belong?  If you are born of God, your life will not be oriented towards rebellion as one who belongs to Satan.