Can I be Born Again and Still Commit Sins?

April 4, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Q&A | 2 Comments
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Question: I John 3:9-10 seems to be saying that true Christians never sin. How can I make sense of this?

Answer: By examining the verses carefully, in their context, and in light of the dominant doctrines of the Bible which address the same issues.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

I John 3:9-10

Who is “born of God?” True Christians, according to John 3:3-7, are people who have been “born again” (reborn spiritually) by the Spirit of God. Therefore, the “whosoever” which begins I John 3:9 is anyone who is really a Christian. Taken in isolation, the statement,”True Christians do not ‘commit’ sin,” could easily be taken to mean that if you are truly a Christian, then you will never commit any sins. And, logically, the inverse would be true: If you sin, then you must not be a true Christian.

However, true Christians know from experience that they do still sin. It would be difficult to find a true Christian that denies sinning every week, every day, even every hour. We don’t use our experiences, though, to interpret Scripture, so let’s keep reading.

Why don’t those who are born again commit sin, according to I John 3:9? It is because “His [God’s] seed” REMAINS (stays permanently) in those who are born of Him. What does that mean?

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

I Peter 1:23

If you are truly a Christian, God, by His Word, at the moment of salvation, gave you His “seed” – something of His nature. This does not mean that true Christians become “gods” (a false belief of Mormonism), but we do get a new “heart” – new essence or nature – which is “of God.” This is not a physical impartation, like when our children inherit our DNA, but there is a similarity, even though it is spiritual, not physical. So, we could reason that, the occurrence of sin after a “salvation” experience means that we did not really receive God’s gift of salvation, because sin is not of God. It’s “of” us. (Note the impossibility of the seed of God leaving His spiritual offspring, which emphasizes the truth that real salvation, once granted, can not be “lost.”)

Another interesting thing to note is that I John 3:9 is a chiasmus:
A. Whoever is born of God
B. Does not commit sin
C. Because God’s seed remains in him
B. He cannot sin
A. Because he is born of God

It seems very black and white, but, without regard to its proper context, it could be used to teach the false doctrine of “perfectionism:” the idea that any sin in the life of a person excludes the possibility that he is a true Christian, so it must be possible for human beings to reach a state of sinless perfection in this lifetime.

On the flip side, it would also be an error to use the verse to support the Gnostic idea of antinomian dualistic perfectionism: the “antichrist” doctrine that the physical body doesn’t matter, so a spiritually transformed Christian can sin all he wants in his body, and it doesn’t “count” because the spiritual self is no longer even capable of sinning.

The better view is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, and to analyze I John 3:9-10 in light of other verses in I John such as:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

I John 2:1

And:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

I John 1:8-10

Additionally, passages like Romans 3:10-23 and Romans 7:14-25, and pretty much all the New Testament epistles that deal with Christians getting the victory over sin and fighting against it all the way to our ultimate sanctification and glorification, make it clear that no Christian ever reaches a state in this lifetime where he is completely free from the commission of sins.

So, when we come to a somewhat jarring verse like I John 3:9, we interpret the dominant pervasively-Biblical precept over the more obscure in-context precept. And the next verse, I John 3:10, actually helps us get a better sense of the context. It says that the children of God are “manifest,” which is a key word in the Book of I John. It means “to make apparent; to reveal openly.” It is what we look to when determining the status of something’s invisible essence by what Thomas Aquinas called its outward “accidents.”

How can we make the best human judgment in distinguishing the children of God from the children of Satan? By their manifest righteousness, or lack of righteousness. We would expect the children of God and the children of Satan to be polar opposites when it comes to the patterns of their lifestyles, and their responses to sin, in the sense of repentance or unrepentance. Of course, we also identify the children of God by their love for other Christians.

This helps us to get a deeper sense of the use of the word “commit” in I John 3:9, so that we understand it as describing an ongoing, habitual life of sin, rather than the commission of any one individual sin. When we are looking at other people, trying our best to determine the genuineness of their profession of faith, we can not judge their hearts, but we can make a practical determination of how much trust to place in their profession based on what we observe. Furthermore, when we examine our own hearts in light of the outward fruit produced in our lives, we will lack assurance if we act and talk more like the devil than like Jesus.

The Holy Spirit Who indwells true Christians CAN NOT initiate sin or practice sin. Our “flesh” – our old nature that is still subject to worldly and Satanic influence – CAN NOT produce God-pleasing righteousness.

So, in response to the question, “How can I make sense of I John 3:9-10?” let me summarize with six points:

1. Sin the life of a Christian does NOT automatically mean the person is not really a Christian. (As Martin Luther said, the Christian life can be described as simul iustus et peccator: simultaneously justified yet sinning.)

2. Unrepentant persistent sin in the life of a professing Christian may be seen as the manifestation of a false profession of faith in Christ.

3. God’s nature in believers is not the source of their sin; it IS the source of any outward righteousness produced in their lives. (Justification is settled in Heaven; regeneration should be evident on earth.)

4. Our assurance of salvation should be challenged, and we must examine our profession of faith if we are manifestly non-Christian in our love of sin and lack of love for Christians.

5. Our obedience to the law of God is important for Christians, although it is not the basis of our status as children of God. (We must avoid both extremes: legalism and antinomianism.)

6. Gnosticism is a heresy. Our bodies are important to God, just as our spirits are important to God. Christ died and rose again to redeem them both.

The Assurance of Trouble

November 3, 2017 at 8:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Romans 8:35

Paul, although writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could speak from experience. He had experienced all these things: persecution, hunger, extreme poverty, life-threatening danger. Yet he remained convinced of the assurance of Christ’s love, not just IN SPITE of these things, but partly BECAUSE of these things.

In fact, the perseverance of his faith and the knowledge of Christ’s presence through trials, tribulations, hardship, and imminent death, utterly convinced him that nothing whatsoever in all of existence could ever separate him from the love of God in Christ.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Sadly, we are often backward in our thinking, looking at trials and temptations and difficulties as signs that God has forgotten or neglected us. What we should do, when God graciously gives us opportunities to strengthen our faith by turning to Him in times of trouble, is to rejoice that He loves us enough to give us such experiential assurances.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

James 1:2-4

Tribulations come to us to strengthen our hope or assurance. They are not random occurrences that have somehow broken out of God’s corral, set loose to stampede and trample our lives. They are controlled tests and gifts of grace, teaching us to patiently consider our Savior and the justification He has won for us, not so that we could be left to our own devices, but so that we could be continually drawing closer to Him.

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

Romans 5:1-4

Anchored Upward

November 23, 2015 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Hebrews | 3 Comments
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As Christians move on toward greater maturity, secure in our salvation, growing in Christ-likeness and bringing glory to Christ instead of shame, the thorns and briars in our lives are removed.

But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

Hebrews 6:8

As we draw nigh unto God, the things in our lives that prevent us from drawing nigh to God have to be burned away. You draw nigh unto God, and the parts of your life that are not bearing fruit – briars and thorns – draw nigh unto cursing. You are the field; you belong to God. God does not curse His own. The briars and thorns get burned. Land won’t burn.

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

Hebrews 6:19

Earthly anchors don’t always hold perfectly, but Jesus Christ is the perfect anchor, and we are not anchored, like a ship, down to the bottom of the sea. We are anchored upward – our Anchor is in Heaven. Our anchor is both sure (it will not slip) and steadfast (it lasts forever).

The assurance of salvation should not lead to laziness.

And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

Hebrews 6:11

Once we move past the milk, to the strong meat, and start to grow up – be big boys and girls – we don’t have to squabble about who’s more spiritual than whom. We have “full assurance.” Assurance by itself should be enough, but our assurance is full. It is assurance plus bonus benefits. And it is shown by diligence, not slothfulness. Eternal security provokes growth, not childishness, because when you know in Whom you have believed, you draw closer and closer.

The Things that Will Last

February 19, 2010 at 9:02 am | Posted in Eternity | 4 Comments
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Those who have been once saved by Christ Jesus will not be judged for their sins, but all men will one day stand before the Lord in judgment. If not for sins, then for what shall true Christians be judged? They shall be judged for their works. (See I Corinthians 3:13 and II Corinthians 5:10).

Knowing that this day is coming, we who are the children of God through the new birth would be very wise to watch how we live, and what we do.

Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.

II John, Verse 8

Earthly, temporal works earn earthly, temporal rewards. But faithful works which promote and build the Kingdom of God bring about full and eternal rewards.

The Author of the Story that Never Ends

January 13, 2010 at 9:58 am | Posted in Eternity, Hebrews | 17 Comments
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An eternal relationship with Jesus Christ is not only the result of salvation; it is also the means. He is not only the “Life.” He is also the “Way” (John 14:6). In fact, Jesus Christ is the Originator of the plan of, and the Author of the very idea of, salvation.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

People who claim that eternal salvation, once it is granted by Christ to someone, can somehow be “lost,” have not fully grasped just how powerful the Savior is. The only way for a recipient of eternal life to experience spiritual death, or separation from God, is for the Savior Himself to lose His Own eternal life. This can never happen. When Jesus Christ saves a lost person, that person is saved completely. He is saved to an extent that the Bible calls the “uttermost.”

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:25

We all have trouble from time to time depending upon the promises of God. However, we must be extremely careful never to build a theological argument which posits that God Himself is unable to do what He says, or that He is undependable. In at least three very specific instances the Bible tells us that God can not lie.

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Numbers 23:19

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

Titus 1:2

That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

Hebrews 6:18

Temporarily Saved Is Not Really Saved at All

December 17, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Eternity | 9 Comments
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Slogans are of limited value.  In general, slogans speak to a timely issue, and give a simplistic “sound bite” which tries to address a complex idea in a few short words.  They have a way of becoming quickly anachronistic.  For example, shouts of “Let them eat cake,” and “No taxation without representation,” caused quite a stir in their day, but just do not carry quite the same impact all these generations later.  This bumper sticker was plastered on the door of my childhood bedroom:

https://i0.wp.com/www.amnation.com/vfr/Dont-Tread-300.gif

All these years later, I’m still not sure who put it there or what it means!  But it must have expressed some social value back in those days.

The same is true for “Christianized” slogans.  They may be clever, but they are often weak at expressing lasting truths.  When I see a bumper sticker that says, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven,” I wince a little.  Sure, Christians are not perfect, in the sense of being sinless, but, as a true Christian, I am a whole lot more than “just” forgiven.  The mighty work of redemption wrought on Calvary’s Cross by the King of Glory should never be minimized as “just” anything.  Or, how about the one that says, “God is my Co-pilot?”  I understand the sentiment, but let’s get real.  The sovereign Lord of all creation, Who rules over and controls every molecule in existence, is not anyone’s “co-pilot.”

In general, if we want to express a Biblical principle, we are better off just sticking with reciting Bible verses.  However, saying that slogans are of limited value is not the same as saying they are of no value.  Take the slogan, “Once Saved Always Saved.”  It is a slogan which does not appear verbatim in Scripture, but it states a principle which is abundantly true and clear throughout Scripture.

God’s desire is for people to be “saved.”

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

I Timothy 2:3-4

Not all people are saved, but every one who is once saved, is in fact always saved.  The only fault in the slogan might be its redundancy.  Imagine a drowning man flailing in the sea.  A lifeguard swims out, and starts hauling him in to shore.  It looks as though the drowning man has been “saved,” but suddenly a great white shark slashes through the water, tears the victim from the lifeguard’s arms, and drags him to his death beneath the waves.  Obviously, it cannot be properly said that the drowning man was “saved.”  Such victims who avoid the sharks, get onto the beach, dry off, and go home, can properly be said to have been “saved” from drowning.  And, though they will one day die, we might say that they were “once saved, always saved from drowning.”

To say that once Jesus Christ “saves” someone they are “always saved,” is a repetitive statement, but it is nevertheless a true statement.  The only alternative (and, sadly, there are many who believe this way) is that Jesus Christ is an imperfect “Savior,” Who can only attempt salvation, never really knowing which of the recipients of His grace and mercy will make it all the way to Heaven.  Obviously, this is not the case.  Jesus Christ is the perfect, all-powerful Savior, so it is correct, although perhaps somewhat clumsy linguistically, to say that all those whom He saves are “once saved, always saved.”

Who “KEEPS” Me Saved?

November 4, 2009 at 10:18 am | Posted in Eternity | 8 Comments
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Some people have heard that they have to be righteous to go to Heaven. Therefore, they try hard to do “good deeds,” and to say “good words,” and to think “good thoughts,” and to be “good people.” When the idea that people can achieve “self-righteousness” is exposed to Scripture, however, only the most stubborn still hold onto the false belief that they can “save” themselves.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 3:10

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Isaiah 64:6

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Titus 3:5

Hopefully, upon learning of the futility of attempted self-righteous salvation, the unbeliever will repent and call upon Christ the Savior. There is rejoicing even in the presence of the angels in Heaven when this happens (Luke 15:10)! However, there is a strange thought circulating about, by which it is sometimes said that the salvation of the Lord, which comes by His grace through faith, can be lost, stolen, or rejected. In response to this strange thought, there is probably a nicer word than “heresy,” but I can’t think of it.

Let those of us who are born again, the elect of God according to His grace and mercy, remember that we did not save ourselves, and we are utterly incapable of “keeping ourselves saved.” Many modern translations of the Bible get a key phrase in Philippians 3:9 wrong. They say that righteousness is “through faith ‘in’ Christ.” The King James (not the New King James) Version hits the nail right on the head when it says that, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” (Emphasis added.)

Today, as I type this, I am found in Jesus Christ. I am righteous in the sight of God only because the righteousness of His dear Son has been imputed to me. The eternal continuance of this gift of righteousness is not because of my great faith. It is because of the wondrous, magnificent, awe-inspiring, unchanging, never-ending faithfulness of Christ Himself.

All in the Past

October 20, 2009 at 7:50 am | Posted in Eternity | 16 Comments
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Satan, the adversary of every Christian, will one day be bound and utterly defeated. At that point he will no longer have the ability to harass and torment the children of God. Today, however, he is tirelessly at work doing all he can to rob God of glory, and to destroy the creatures that God loves. Dr. Frank M. Kepner, the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Long Beach, California, from 1956-1979, once wrote: “Yes, when we have been brought close to Christ by some high spiritual experience or by some noble decision, we may always expect great temptation to follow. For Satan never surrenders a life to God without a desperate struggle.”

Of course, the faithful Christian who studies his Bible is not ignorant of Satan’s devices, weapons, schemes, or persistence. When he is tripped by Satan, and stumbles into sin, he need not fret or wallow in defeat. In fact, Christians have access to a great promise concerning God’s compassion on His children even when they have shamefully stumbled.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32

When you have been “born again” – that is, born into the family of God – your past sins are forgiven, your current sins are forgiven, and even your future sins are forgiven. The “tense” of your sins is not the important thing. The tense of God’s forgiveness is. The sins of believers were dealt with on the Cross of Christ and they “hath” been (past tense) forgiven.

A believer who is dealt a blow by Satan, and who gives in to sin, grieves the Holy Spirit of God.

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

This would have been the perfect place for God to tell us that our sins can cause the Spirit to be grieved to the point that He leaves us, and that we lose our eternal salvation. But He does not. Instead, He reminds us that, though we may grieve the Holy Spirit, He still seals Christians unto the day of redemption. Satan is strong. Some men are strong. But no one can break the seal of God.

It All Depends on What Your Definition of “OF” Is

October 5, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Eternity, Galatians | 10 Comments
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The words “faith” and “faithful” are used in a combined 309 Bible verses. To say that, with God, faith is a “big deal,” would be an overwhelming understatement. In fact, one of the clearest passages in the Bible on God’s salvation of man is Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is clear that no one is going to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ without faith.

But what about those who had faith once, but whose lives, words, or deeds make it seem to mortal men as though they have lost their faith? Did they lose their salvation, too? Not according to the Scriptures. For it is not the faith of man that saves man; it is the faith of Christ Himself. I will highlight a very small, but very important, word in a few verses, to show just Whose faith we are talking about.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 2:16

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Galatians 3:22

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

Revelation 14:12

The word “of” lets us know exactly Whose faith we are dependent upon for salvation. Many people vainly seek strength in their own faith, and are discouraged when they are lacking. Others point to once-faithful Christians and pronounce them rejected of God due to a perceived lack of faithfulness in their lives. Jesus Christ is the only One Who is truly 100% faithful, and because of His unchanging, unwavering, unyielding faithfulness, those whom He graciously saves are kept eternally secure.

The Deposit on Your Soul

September 21, 2009 at 8:29 am | Posted in Eternity, I Corinthians | 12 Comments
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You may have heard the old joke about the immoral traveling salesman. He had lady-friends in two different cities, but he always tried to be extra careful, so they would not find out about each other, while he pretended that each one was his true sweetheart. One day, though, his boss discovered this arrangement and called him on the carpet.

“Look here,” said the boss, “this company has a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness. I’m shocked at your behavior.”

The salesman looked back innocently. “Why sir, I don’t think you should question my character like that. I always try to be frank and earnest.”

The boss grew even more exasperated. “How in the world can you say that? ‘Frank and earnest’ means ‘open and honest.’ You are busy two-timing ladies in two different cities! What do you mean, you always try to be ‘frank and earnest!??’”

“Well,” said the salesman confidently, “I’m always ‘Frank’ Jones when I’m in Chicago, and I’m always ‘Ernest’ Smith when I’m in Detroit.”

We may be thankful, when we see the word “earnest” in our Bibles, that our Lord is not duplicitous or disingenuous.

Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.

II Corinthians 5:5

“Earnest” in this verse means a deposit, a sort of a down-payment, guaranteeing the eventual ushering-in to Heaven of all true Christians.

The Holy Spirit has a number of functions in the lives of born-again believers. Among them, He teaches us the Bible; He convicts us of sin; He produces in us the ability to love others and to obey God. He also is God’s seal upon our eternal soul, acting as proof of the promise that all those whom Christ Jesus has saved, will, without fail, go to be with Him one day.

One reason that I know I am going to Heaven is because of the Scriptures, but another reason is because, at the moment of salvation, God’s Spirit came to live in the temple of my body. One day God’s Spirit is going to Heaven forever. Because God cannot lie, and because God will never take His Spirit away from one of His children, and because God’s seal can never be broken or erased, I know that when God’s Spirit goes to Heaven, I, too, must go with Him. God’s earnest is not based on my good works, the strength of my self-generated faith, or my own personal post-salvation pronouncements about what I think, feel, or experience. God’s earnest is based on His unchanging character, His Truth, and His righteousness.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

John 14:3

Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

II Corinthians 1:21-22

That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:12-14


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