Understanding 1 John

Q. I don’t understand the apparent contradiction in 1 John 1:8-10 versus 1 John 3:6-9. Am I misunderstanding something, if we claim we have not sinned we make God out to be a liar, but if we continue to sin this is evidence that we are not born of God? I know that I am a saint who sins … but please enlightenment me on these verses.

A. John was writing to the Church, people who are already saved. In 1 John 1:8-10 he was correcting those who think that since they’re already saved they don’t need to seek God’s forgiveness when they sin. It is true that our ongoing sinfulness can’t cause us to lose our salvation, but it can deprive us of blessings by straining our relationship with God. When we sin, confession purifies us from our unrighteousness and restores us to fellowship with Him.

In a general sense 1 John 3:6-9 says that salvation should evidence itself in a change of attitude about sin. Since he admonished believers to seek forgiveness when we sin in chapter 1 he couldn’t have been trying to say that real Christians don’t sin in chapter 3. Christians sin just like everyone else. The difference is that when we do the Holy Spirit convicts us and we seek forgiveness. Although our forgiveness is assured, the process generally causes us to think twice before sinning again, and little by little we change.

But John’s letter was written specifically against the sin of gnosticism which denied both the deity of Jesus and that His death was the remedy for our sins. Reading the letter from that perspective, since John wasn’t saying that Christians don’t sin, it’s logical to conclude that he was saying that those who adhered to the specific sin of gnosticism were not saved. In effect he was saying that no born again believer could accept gnosticism, and no one who accepted gnosticism could be born again. The two positions are incompatible.

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