Why Real Christians Don't Sin

Bible Book: 1 John  3 : 4-10
Subject: Sin; Christian Living
Series: Certainty In Uncertain Times - 1 John

We pick up our study of First John in the fourth verse of the third chapter today. Without question, verses four through ten are some of the most intriguing verses in John’s epistle; and understanding what John is saying here requires some diligent study. So I hope you are prepared to really dig in this morning. Let’s read these verses together. (Read Text)

Already in our study of this book we have learned that John calls Christians those who remain in Him and are born of Him. Now using those same terms in the verses we just read John says twice that Christians do not sin. In fact, in verse nine he goes as far as to say that not only do Christians not sin, they are not able to sin. Or as some translations read: They cannot sin.

But wait a minute! John has already told us that we do sin. Do you remember what he said in verses eight and ten of the first chapter? “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8,10 (HCSB)

So how do we reconcile what John has already said in chapter one with what he is now saying in chapter three? Well, through the years there have been a variety of interpretations and explanations for what John is saying in these verses we are studying today. (Reinsert Title Slide)

For example, some people who believe that Christians lose their salvation if they sin teach that a person can gradually overcome sin until they become perfectly sinless. After reaching that point they can no longer lose their salvation. Of course, the problem with that interpretation is that it contradicts what John says in verse eight of chapter one, which we read just a moment ago.

Some have interpreted these verses by saying that John is describing an ideal every Christian should strive for even though none of us will be perfectly sinless in this life. This interpretation doesn’t sound too bad except for the fact that John’s writing style isn’t characterized by idealistic thinking but rather very practical and down-to-earth thinking. So this interpretation doesn’t fit the context of John’s writing style.

Still other people see these verses only applying to willful and deliberate sin. In other words, when John says in verse nine that everyone who has been born of God does not sin he is saying that everyone who has been born of God does not commit deliberate or willful sin. But James makes it clear in the first chapter of his epistle that we sin because we willfully choose to sin. So that interpretation doesn’t make sense.

There are even some others we could talk about today; but in spite of the numerous interpretations of this passage, when we look at the text itself we find the key to understanding what John means. In this passage all the verbs related to sin are written in the present tense. In the Greek language, when a verb is written in the present tense, it indicates continuous, habitual action. In other words, when John speaks of a person committing sin in these verses he is not talking about occasional acts of sin; he is talking about established, ongoing, and continual sinful behavior.

So when the Bible says here in verses six and nine that Christians do not sin it is saying that we will not habitually and continually sin as a way of life. All real Christians still struggle with temptation and at times yield to temptation, just as the apostle Paul testified to in the seventh chapter of Romans. But real Christians will not continually and habitually sin.

In fact, the New International Version of the Bible translates the verbs in verses six and nine correctly. It says: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him…No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” 1 John 3:6, 9 (NIV)

Let me give you an illustration that may help us understand what John is saying here. The Nile River is the longest river in the world running 4,160 miles. Another interesting thing about the Nile is that it is the only river of any consequence that flows from the south to the north. Most rivers, like the Mississippi, flow from the north to the south. Not the Nile…it flows from the south to the north. However, just north of the fifth cataract in Sudan, the Nile bends to the west. It continues to bend until it actually is flowing south. But that southward flow only lasts for a short distance as the bend of the river turns once again back to its overall northward flow up to the Mediterranean Sea.

That’s a great illustration of the flow of a Christian’s life when it comes to sinful behavior. In fact, Dr. John Phillips says it this way in his commentary of First John: “The flow of a true believer’s life is toward obedience and faith. Occasional lapses may occur; some of them may even be prolonged. But that is not the main trend. The occasional stretches of misdirected (sinful) behavior represent an interruption of the general trend toward Christ-likeness.”1 In other words, the prevailing trend of a Christian’s life will not be sinful behavior but Christ-like behavior.

So while John is certainly not talking about sinless perfection he is saying that real Christians do not, and according to verse nine, cannot live a continual and habitual life of sin. And in these verses he gives us three reasons why. First he says that…

I. Continual And Habitual Sin Is Contrary To The Standard Of God

1 John 3:4

While we as Christians are no longer under the law, that is, we are no longer obligated to follow the system of the law we are still obligated to follow the standard of the law because the law gives us God’s definition of sinful behavior and expresses His standard of right and wrong. And that standard has never changed. Although God’s grace emphasizes His love, it does not change His holiness. Sin is still sin! And sin always has been, and always will be, contrary to the law and standard of God.

In fact, the Bible says that true Christians have been set free from sin and have committed themselves to live according to the standard of God. The apostle Paul said it this way in Romans 6: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Romans 6:15-18 (NIV)

In other words, when God saves us He saves us from sin not to sin. He sets us free from sin so that sin is no longer the rule of our life but the exception to the rule of our life. This means that we will no longer habitually and continually break the law of God. Second, John says that…

II. Continual And Habitual Sin Is Contrary To The Sacrifice Of Christ

1 John 3:5-8

Let’s just take verses five through eight one at a time and make sure we understand what John is saying here. First, let’s look at verse five. (Read verse five)

The primary reason God sent His Son into the world was for Jesus to serve as a sacrifice for our sins. Romans 3:25 says it this way: “God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.” Romans 3:25 (NIV)

But John goes a step further here in verse five. He says that not only did Jesus come to serve as the sacrifice for sin and provide forgiveness for sin but He came to take away sins.

The word translated away is a word that literally means “to remove by lifting away.” In other words, when God saves us He forgives our sins and takes them away altogether and sets us apart to live a different kind of life. This is what Paul meant in the second chapter of his letter to Titus: “For the free gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone; and along with this gift comes the realization that God wants us to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures and to live good, God-fearing lives day after day, looking forward to that wonderful time we've been expecting, when his glory shall be seen - the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He died under God's judgment against our sins so that he could rescue us from constant falling into sin and make us his very own people.” Titus 2:11-14 (TLB)

Because Christ died to rescue us from constantly falling into sin, to go on living in continual and habitual sin would be absolutely contrary to what He did for us when He died on that cross.

In verse six John simply reiterates that no one who is saved, that is, no one who has seen Him or knows Him, can continue to live in sin.

In verse seven John cautions believers to not be deceived. Real believers don’t live in continual and habitual sin. Real believers obey God and submit to Jesus Christ in all things. As Jesus said Himself in the seventh chapter of Matthew, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:16-18, 21-22 (NIV)

Jesus was simply saying that people in whose lives you see continual and habitual fruit of righteousness are people who really belong to Him. On the other hand, people in whose lives you see continual and habitual fruit of unrighteousness are people who do not belong to Him. (Reinsert Point 2 Slide)

Then in verse eight John adds that those who don’t know the Lord are of the devil. Please understand this morning. There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are of God and those who are of the devil. You either belong to God or you belong to His adversary. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 12 that we are either for Him or we are against Him. There is no middle or neutral ground when it comes to our spiritual condition.

John then says that Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil. What are the works of the Devil? Well, in the tenth chapter of John Jesus said that the works of the Devil are to kill, steal, and destroy. How does he accomplish those things? By instigating sin and rebellion against God. By promoting unbiblical teaching and false religions. By tempting, persecuting, and accusing believers. By deceiving and betraying people to ultimately carry them away to an eternal hell.

On the other hand, Jesus said that He came to give us life abundant and life eternal. His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave defeated the works of the Devil. The Devil no longer has power over those who belong to Christ. And Satan’s days are numbered as one day Jesus will cast him and all his angels and followers into the lake of fire and brimstone.

For any person to live in continual and habitual sin is to live contrary to all Jesus accomplished by His sacrifice on the cross.

Finally, John says that…

III. Continual And Habitual Sin Is Contrary To The Seed Of The Holy Spirit

1 John 3:9-10)

Verse nine says: “Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him.” 1 John 3:9 (HCSB)

In the third chapter of the gospel of John Jesus described being born again as a new birth and a work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, listen to what he said to a man named Nicodemus: “In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’” John 3:3-6 (NIV)

One commentator expressed it very well: “Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the (Holy) Spirit within the one who believes.”2

The Book of First Peter clearly identifies what that divine seed implanted by the Holy Spirit is: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’" 1 Peter 1:23-25 (NIV)

Those who are born of God have been born again through the seed of the Word of God that has been implanted in them by the Holy Spirit of God. And that new birth marks the end of a person’s old sinful life and the beginning of a new life in which he does not and cannot practice continual and habitual sin any longer.

And that’s what John means when he says that real Christians don’t sin!


Let’s bow our heads. (Insert Blank Screen)

So, let me ask you this morning…What is the main flow and trend of your life? Is your life characterized by continual and habitual patterns of sin? Or is your life more characterized by faith and obedience to Christ? Does the main flow and trend of your life produce fruit of righteousness or fruit of unrighteousness?

Who do you really belong to today? Are you a child of God or a child of the Devil? Those are the only two kinds of people here this morning. We are all one or the other. Which are you? The Bible says you can know for sure.

If you’ve been born of God, that is, if you’ve been born again, then you are a child of God. If not, you can be. I wonder if there is someone here this morning who would like to be a child of God. Would you like to know for sure that you have been born of Him? Then pray this prayer with me….

1 John Phillips, Exploring the Epistles of John: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 99-100.

2 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 127.