Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you. We want to rightly divide your Word. We want to understand it. We want to live it. We ask in Jesus’ mighty, holy name. Amen!
I’ll use the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Frequently I’ll make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious.
When we stopped last time we were going through 1 John 2:28-3:12. Now we are ready to discuss 1 John 3:9. I’ll read the verse from my book, “Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ,” which uses the New American Standard Bible, 1977 edition. “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
First, we’ll discuss the words, “No one who is born of God practices sin.” The fact that Christians do not practice sin is becoming a very familiar theme. Again, the ideal is victory over all sin. 1 John 3:10 (with 2:29) shows that born-again Christians “practice righteousness.” “No one who is born of God practices sin” (or, “will continue to sin”), but those who are born of God “practice righteousness” (or, “do righteousness”; or, “will continue to do righteousness”). I’m on page 213 of my book. As I have mentioned, sometimes I modify what is written in the book for these articles.
Next, we’ll discuss the words, “because His seed abides in him.” God’s seed abides in every born-again Christian. We can speak of being born of the Word of God (see 1 Peter 1:23, for example), but here “His seed” probably refers to the indwelling Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit. As we walk by the Holy Spirit by faith, we walk in the righteousness and holiness of God.
Now we’ll discuss the words, “and he cannot sin” (of 1 John 3:9). “The Greek more literally reads, “and he is not able to continue to sin,” or “to live in sin,” or the equivalent. The Greek has the present tense infinitive of the verb “hamartano,” which is translated “to continue to (in) sin,” or the equivalent. (On the present tense of hamartano, see under 1 John 3:6. As we have discussed, the Greek present tense carries the idea of continuous action.) These words could be translated several other ways with essentially the same meaning, including, “he cannot go on sinning” with the NIV; “he cannot practice sinning” with the Amplified Bible; and “he cannot be a sinner” with the New English Bible.
In 1 John 3:9 and throughout this epistle, the apostle John exhorts his readers with the need to continuously walk in the righteousness of God, with the victory over all sin. That’s the ideal! But we know that John is not saying that it is impossible for a true Christian to commit an occasional act of sin. He has already made that point clear in 1 John 2:1. I’ll read 2:1,.“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin [As we have discussed, the Greek verb hamartano is used in the aorist tense in 2:1. That tense carries the idea that you may not commit an act of sin, or the equivalent.] And [or, we could translate “But” with the NIV] But if anyone sins [Again the verb hamartano is in the aorist tense and carries the meaning, if anyone commits an act of sin, or the equivalent. John is dealing with the possibility (certainly not the necessity) of true Christians committing occasional acts of sin.], we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
So, the apostle exhorts his readers to not sin at all in 1 John 2:1, but he acknowledges the possibility of occasional acts of sin. The New Testament confirms this point other places too. It’s very clear that true Christians can sin, but the good news is that we are called (and enabled) to not sin at all. God’s grace is sufficient for us to walk above sin. When we consider who Jesus is and what the Father has done for us in the sacrifice of His Son, it would be surprising, even shocking, if His grace wasn’t sufficient to give us the total victory over sin. And especially when we consider the fact that God hates sin.
1 John 3:10. “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness [or, the one who is not doing righteousness, or the equivalent] is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” In 1 John 3:8 the apostle says, “the one who practices sin is of the devil.” Here he says, “anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God,” and therefore, is a child of the devil. 1 John 2:29-3:9, for example, show that the children of God do practice righteousness (they continue to do righteousness).
Now we’ll discuss the words, “nor the one who does not love his brother” (of 3:10). The apostle was speaking here of loving the brethren in Christ. “Loving the brethren” goes with keeping God’s commandments and walking in His righteousness (see, for example, 1 John 1:7; 2:5-11; 3:14-24; 4:7-21; 5:1-3; John 13:34, 35; and 15:12, 17). In this matter also the heretics (the Gnostic heretics) proved that they were not the children of God; they did not love the brethren (see, for example, 1 John 1:5-7 2:3-11, 19; 3:11, 12; and 4:20).
1 John 3:11. “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” The words “from the beginning” are also used in 1 John 2:7, “Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.” This message “that we should love one another” goes back to “the beginning” of Christianity. It was also included to some extent in the Old Testament.
1 John 3:12. “not as Cain, who was of the evil one [the devil], and slew his brother [Abel]. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.” Verses 8 and 10 help explain what it means that Cain “was of the evil one.” He was a child of the devil, and he was doing a work of the devil when he killed his brother. The apostle Paul spoke of Satan working in the sons of disobedience in Eph. 2:2. That completes our study of 1 John 2:28-3:12.
I’ll turn to page 214 of my book, we come to the heading, “What Is Sin?” It is very important for us to know the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on this topic. We will not be able to fully discuss this important topic in this section, but a few comments are required. We frequently hear that the only way it would be possible for Christians to live in victory over sin would be to modify God’s definition of sin. I don’t agree with that assessment. The New Testament, which necessarily incorporates God’s definition of sin, consistently speaks of victory over sin as the ideal standard for Christians.
Many examples are included in this book. Consider, for example, the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew chapters 5-7). I’ll quote a few key verses from those chapters. Matt. 5:29, 30, “If your right eye makes you stumble [makes you sin], tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (30) If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matt. 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 7:13, 14, 21-27, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. … (21) Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell - and great was its fall.”
But didn’t the apostle Paul say that he was the chief (or, the foremost) of sinners? He did, but he was speaking of his sinful pre-Christian state, when he was attacking the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel and violently persecuting Christians. ((’m going to turn back to endnote 12, where I discussed this topic. In 1 Tim. 1:12-16 the apostle Paul said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; (13) even though I WAS FORMERLY A BLASPHEMER AND A PERSECUTOR AND A VIOLENT AGGRESSOR. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief [back before he became a Christian]; (14) and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. [The abundant grace of God in Christ was sufficient to transform Paul from being “the chief (or foremost) of sinners” to being the sanctified, faithful apostle to the Gentiles.] (15) It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. [The apostle Paul has already explained, back in verse 13, what he meant by calling himself the chief (or foremost) of sinners. He was attacking Jesus Christ and the gospel and violently persecuting Christians.] (16) And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” As I mentioned, the abundant grace of God in Christ was sufficient to transform Paul from being the “the [chief or] foremost of sinners” to being the sanctified, faithful apostle to the Gentiles.
Speaking of himself as a Christian, Paul spoke in very different terms (because of the sufficient sanctifying grace of God in Christ). He said, for example, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; compare 1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17). That sounds like the victory over all sin to me. I’ll also quote 2 Cor. 1:14, “For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshy wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” Also see 2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Thess. 2:1-12.))
I’m turning back to page 214. Let’s put the emphasis on the power of the atoning blood of the Lamb of God to transform sinners into saints, in accordance with the gospel of the new covenant. Let’s not limit God’s ability! The atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely powerful, backed up by the infinite Spirit of God.
Everything short of absolute perfection should not be classified as sin, and the fact that we still have room for growth (and a need to grow) is not, in itself, sin. It will not work for good to call things sin when God doesn’t. Christians can be tempted, and we can sin, and as all true Christians know, there is an intense warfare engaged against us by the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is important to know that being tempted, or having a wrong thought, or a wrong desire is not, in itself, sin. ((I have an endnote here, which I’ll read, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is an important verse that is relevant to this discussion. It says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it [endure it without sinning that is].”
It is important to point out that Paul’s primary message in 1 Cor. 10:1-22 was that the Christians at Corinth must flee immorality, idolatry, and rebellion. If they did not, they were sure to fall. We must, as far as it is possible, avoid all sources of temptation (see, for example, Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Tim. 6:9-11; 2 Tim. 2:22).))
(I’ll turn back to page 214 and reread a sentence.) It is important to know that being tempted or having a wrong thought or a wrong desire is not, in itself, sin. (See Gal. 5:17, for example. We have already discussed Gal. 5:16-25 in previous articles, and this passage is discussed in some detail in the last chapter of my book. Even Jesus was, in one sense, tempted [see, for example, Heb. 2:18; 4:15; Luke 22:39-46]). The message of Gal. 5:16-25 and Rom. 8:12-14 is that Christians are enabled, by the indwelling Spirit of God, to keep the flesh (the old man) from manifesting itself in sin. There need not be an overt sinful act for sin to exist. In Gal. 5:19-21, for example, the apostle Paul lists “jealousy” and “envying” among “the deeds [works] of the flesh.” Things like unbelief, pride, unforgiveness, jealousy, and envy are serious sins. There are also sins of omission (see, for example, James 4:17; 1 John 3:14-24). All sin is ultimately against God; it is a transgression of His laws (see 1 John 3:4).
Many Christians have often been to quick to label things as sin. One reason for this is that many Christians start with the assumption that we all sin often, and in many ways. With such an underlying assumption, it is no big deal to label one more thing as sin. Sin is a serious word. We should not use it loosely. But everything that God calls sin, we must be careful to call sin. And we must remain teachable before God and other Christians. It is all to easy to deceive ourselves and not see our sin. We must also be quick to repent and to ask for forgiveness before God and man. And we must make it top priority to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God by His sufficient grace.
Many say that our every thought, word, motive, attitude, and action is tainted by the flesh and is sinful. Significantly, however, the New Testament does not seem to share this point of view. The apostle Paul, for example, did not consider the active presence of the flesh (the old man) to be, in itself, sinful (see Gal. 5:16-25; Rom. 8:12-14; and 13:14). I don’t believe God scrutinizes our every thought, word, motive, attitude, and action looking for the taint of sin. If anything, He is inclined toward generosity as He evaluates His blood-bought children. He is not a cold, impersonal computer in the sky. He is our loving heavenly Father.
Didn’t the Lord Jesus Christ say that if a man has a lustful thought or desire he has sinned? No, that isn’t quite what he said. He said, “everyone who looks at a woman to lust [for the purpose of lusting] for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). The Lord was speaking of a man who willingly yields himself (his mind) for the purpose of lusting, not of a man who rejects and resists all such temptation.
Well, didn’t the apostle Paul say that “whatever is not from faith [or, of faith] is sin” in Romans 14:23? (Romans chapter 14 is discussed verse-by-verse in my “Paper on Faith.” That paper and many other papers is located on my internet site.) Some have taken these words out of context and understood them to say far more than what the apostle intended. (I’ll give a few examples as we continue.) Misinterpretations like this cause considerable confusion in the Body of Christ and do a lot of damage.
In the context of Romans chapter 14, Paul is saying that if a Christian does something that is not in itself sinful, eating meat, for example, while doubting that it is OK with God, it is sin (see Rom. 14:13-15, 20-23). These words from Romans 14:23 (“whatever is not of faith is sin”) should not be used to label as sinful every area of our lives in which we are not strong in faith. I’m sure the apostle desired that those who were “weak in faith” (see Rom. 14:1, 2) would become strong in faith. He did not, however, say that this particular weakness was sinful. Like I said, sin is a serious word. In Romans chapter 14 the apostle exhorts those strong in faith not to regard with contempt or to judge those weak in faith (see Rom. 14:1, 3, 10, 13). He also exhorts those weak in faith not to judge those strong in faith (see Rom. 14:3, 4, 10, 13). We have to be careful about judging others (see Matt. 7:1-5, for example).
I’m going to add to what I said on Romans chapter 14 in the book for this article. In Romans chapter 14 the apostle exhorted those strong in faith (that is, those who knew that it was OK for them to eat meat, for example), to fully accept those weak in faith (those who were not convinced in their hearts, for one reason, or another, that it was OK with God for them to eat meat, for example). Paul made it clear in Romans chapter 14 that those strong in faith should not put pressure on those weak in faith to go ahead and eat meat, for example, before they had faith in their hearts that it was OK before God for them to eat meat. The apostle said that if they ate meat before they had faith in their hearts that it was OK with God, it would be sin for them, even though eating meat is not sinful. And sin is a very serious matter.
Quite often I have heard Christians, very sincere Christians, take these words (“whatever is not of faith is sin”) out of context and come up with ideas like Christians are sinning if they stay sick for a while, or if they go to a doctor, or if they take medicine because they should have faith to be healed, and the Bible says that whatever in not of faith is sin. Or, ideas like Christians are sinning if they are having financial problems, or if they are overweight, etc., etc., because they should have faith to get every problem solved quickly. It is very important for Christians to be strong in faith in every area, but ideas like those I just mentioned are far removed from what the apostle was saying in Rom. 14:23. Again, Paul was saying that it is sinful to eat meat, for example, when you doubt in your heart that it is OK with God. Sin is a serious matter, and it causes considerable confusion and damage when we call things sin that God doesn’t call sin.
Several verses in 1 Corinthians are often taken out of context and used to label as sinful many areas that are far outside the scope of the apostle Paul’s words. 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17 say, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (17) If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him for the temple of God is holy and that is what you are.” And 1 Cor. 6:19, 20 say, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (20) For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.”
These verses have often been used to label as sinful such things as being overweight, working too much, not sleeping enough, not getting enough exercise, and not eating right. I’m not saying that God never considers such things to be sinful (and especially if He has been dealing with a Christian in one of these areas), but the apostle Paul wasn’t dealing with such things in the verses just quoted. In 1 Cor. 3:16, 17 he was dealing with the serious sin of destroying segments of the Body of Christ though heresy, etc. (It should be noted that the “you,” which is found four times in 1 Cor. 3:16, 17 is plural in the Greek. I’ll read those verses again, “Do you [plural] not know that you [plural] are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you [plural]. If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you [plural] are.”) In 1 Cor. 6:15-20 Paul was dealing with the sin of gross immorality.
As I have mentioned, there are sins of omission, but we don’t want to overuse (or, underuse) this concept. Everyone can think of things they could have done differently. I could have gotten up earlier; I could have read the Bible more; I could have prayed more; I could have talked to that person; and so on. I’m not suggesting that such things are never sinful, but we need some restraint here. For one thing, the devil’s hosts work to get Christians feeling condemned even when they haven’t sinned. That completes our brief study regarding “What Is Sin?”
I’m going to turn to page 141 of my book. A new chapter begins here, a very important chapter, “A Study on the Meaning of the Greek Noun ‘Aphesis.’ ” The Greek noun “aphesis,” which is used seventeen times in the New Testament, is translated “forgiveness” fifteen times by the NASB. The KJV translates it “forgiveness” or “remission” fifteen times. The only place where the NASB and the KJV translate aphesis other than “forgiveness” or “remission” is Luke 4:18, which uses this Greek noun two times. (We will discuss Luke 4:18 below.) The NIV has “forgiveness” or the verb “forgiven” in all the fifteen uses that exclude Luke 4:18. The BAGD Greek Lexicon lists each of these fifteen uses under “forgiveness” and equates forgiveness with the “cancellation of the guilt of sin.”
Although “forgiveness” or the equivalent is widely accepted as the normal translation for aphesis in the New Testament, I don’t believe this is an adequate translation in some verses. In my opinion, if forgiveness is understood in the typical sense of the cancellation of the guilt of sin, then this translation frequently says far less that what was intended by the Author [referring to God] and the author. I believe a translation like “release”; that is, “release [from sins with the guilt and penalties]” is required in several verses. A translation like “release [from sins with the guilt and penalties]” says much more than “forgiveness [of the guilt of sin],” though that is included. This suggested translation also includes the ideas of being set free from the kingdom of spiritual death and bondage to sin, and made alive spiritually and made righteous and holy.
In my opinion, there is far too little emphasis placed on the gospel truth of being made righteous and holy in the Christian church of our day. An understanding of this fuller sense of aphesis will serve as an important step in rectifying this very serious problem.
There is very much in common between aphesis (understood in this much fuller sense) and the idea of redemption. There is also very much in common with the idea of justification, when justification is used in the full sense that we have discussed in these articles and which is discussed in some detail in this book. When used in the full sense, justification includes being declared righteous, being set free from spiritual death and bondage to sin, being born again, and being made righteous and holy.
In this study we will first discuss Luke 4:18 (with Luke 4:16-21), where the context makes it very clear, and everyone seems to agree, that aphesis means much more than forgiveness. It means release, deliverance, liberty.
We’ll come back to aphesis in the next article. God bless you. His will be done! His will be done in us!