In 1 John 3:6, the Bible says, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Explain how this verse can be true when all of us who are Christians do continue to sin after becoming Christians.
It’s important, especially for tender consciences, to understand that the apostle. John is not saying that a true Christian never sins, and that if someone does sin it’s proof that he is not a Christian.
What he is saying is that those who have been born of God have, in principle, broken away from their old sinful ways and have begun a new life of righteousness. There is a change in their relationship to sin. Those in whom such a change is not evident show that they have not been born of God. They continue in sin the same as ever.
In verse six, the verb “sins” in both instances is in the present tense. The same is true of “commits sin” in verse 9. The idea is that those who have been regenerated (i.e., born again) by the power of the Holy Spirit do not, and indeed, cannot make a practice of sinning because something of God’s divine nature has been imparted to them (2 Pet. 1:4). God’s “seed” abides in them. They are no longer merely “natural” people (1 Cor. 2:14) who are “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19), and therefore do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). They are instead “spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:15) and will therefore inevitably begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s not possible for them to remain the same as they were before. They will begin to exhibit the marks of having been “born of God.”
Some translations attempt to bring out the significance of the present tense here by rendering verse six something like, “No one who abides in him continues to sin” (NIV), or “keeps on sinning” (ESV). His point is that those who have been born of God do not make sin a way of life – rather, they aspire after holiness; they desire to live righteously; and by God’s grace they make progress toward that goal.
Troubled as we are by the effects of the Fall, however, we can never in this life perfectly attain to the standard of righteousness set forth in Scripture. Nevertheless there is a very marked difference in the character of life between the one who has been born of God and the one who hasn’t.
In context, St. John is explaining how “the children of God” and “the children of the devil” are made “evident” (v. 10). The children of the devil do not practice righteousness; they keep on sinning, the same as ever. It’s their way of life. On the other hand, the children of God do not continue in their old sinful way of life, but begin a new life of obedience. It’s imperfect. It grows by fits and starts. Sometimes it seems that they take three steps forward and two steps back; but at least they’re one step ahead of where they were—a change is evident and progress is being made.
St. John is saying that the lives of those who have never tasted of God’s saving mercy are characterized by regular and persistent disobedience; whereas the lives of those who have been born of God are characterized by growth in grace and holiness.
We ought always to thank God that our salvation consists of deliverance from both the guilt of sin and from its power. Amen!