I recently heard a teacher reference I John 3:9 (“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”) as support for the proposition that “true” believers will not sin, or at least practice sin. With all the Scriptural support for the concept that believers can, and do still sin, how do you explain I John 3:9?
Earlier in his letter John wrote that anyone who claims to be without sin is not telling the truth (1 John 1:8). Since every believer continues to sin John must have been saying more than a surface reading of 1 John 3:9 reveals. I’ve heard two explanations of his intent.
The first is that since the focus of his letter is the issue of gnosticism, that’s the sin John was referring to. Born again believers cannot commit the sin of gnosticism because gnostics don’t believe in being born again. They don’t believe the Lord’s death saved us but that we’re saved through the acquisition of secret knowledge.
The other explanation draws on Paul’s teaching from Romans 7:15-20 in which he stated that from God’s point of view, when a believer sins it’s not the believer doing it, but the sin nature that dwells within the believer. Therefore God sees believers as if we don’t sin. He can do this because all the sins of our life were taken away at the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). This makes it impossible for a born again believer to sin from His point of view, supporting John’s statement.
Both these explanations have merit, and are the only ways I’ve found that allow John’s statement to make sense.