In his first epistle John makes an astounding statement, one that is so unbelievable, that in our modern culture we cannot accept it, “Anyone who is born again does not sin!” Is John really telling us that Christians don’t sin? Ever? Because if he is, then there is something really wrong. We all know Christians that have failed God, sinned and backslidden. What’s more, we all know Christians who are far from perfect. Even though they are sincere people, many believers struggle with temptation and even sin. So is John wrong or have we misunderstood what he meant?

The answer to the question, of course, is that we have not really understood John’s meaning. But first let’s make a few observations from the Bible about failure, even moral failure. There are a great number of people in the Bible who enjoyed the favor of God, and were considered great people, even great men and women of God, but who were not perfect, and who at times committed some pretty serious errors in judgment! For example Noah got drunk after the ark; Abraham lied about his wife’s relationship to him; Sarah suggested that Abraham marry her maid in order to have children; Isaac lied about his wife, and sought to cheat Jacob; Jacob was a perennial liar and cheat a good part of his life; Joseph was a troublemaker and tattle-tale; Judah and Simeon deceived the Canaanites and committed genocide; Judah also refused follow through on his responsibilities to Tamar, hooked up with a woman he thought was a prostitute, was secretive and deceitful about it, and became a hypocrite over the whole affair; Moses murdered an Egyptian and got angry enough to disobey God; Gideon made a gold ephod that became and idol, after one of God most notable deliverances; Sampson was unable to get the victory over his lust for Philistine women; David had an anger problem, was a horrible disciplinarian in his home, committed adultery, and had Uriah murdered to cover it up; Solomon backslid after constructing the temple; Uzziah became proud enough to march into the temple to oppose the priests; Josiah foolishly met his death unnecessarily on the battlefield, after a great revival; Jonah grumbled and became bitter over the compassion, grace and mercy of God; John the Baptist experienced a bout of doubt over Jesus; James and John, Jesus disciples wanted to called down lightening on the Samaritans because of their foul temper; Peter denied Jesus three times after assuring him he would never forsake him; John Mark turned back on his first mission trip because it got hard; Paul had a knock-down-drag-out argument with Barnabas and Paul’s companions deserted him when he was imprisoned in Rome. These are not all of the examples of the failures of God people. In all of this there appears to be no evidence, except in the case of outright rejection of God, these people were themselves totally rejected by God. Their failures did not result in final damnation, even when those failures amounted to moral lapses.

John’s epistle makes an appeal to his readers that they should care for one another deeply. He says that they should love one another, and by love John means something quite practical. So he tells them that when sin overtakes a brother or sister, they are pray for the one who has failed (16a). John assumes that after sin or failure there is the possibility of restoration, as long as sin has not gone too far (16b). In 1 John 2:1, he makes the assertion that when we sin we have an advocate, or a mediator, someone who can negotiate with God on our behalf. This mediator is Jesus Christ, who can petition God for forgiveness, because he died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). So committing sin, although it is reprehensible and damaging to our relationship with God, in not entirely irreversible. Sin can be forgiven. Sin does not have to dominate or control us.

That leads us back to John’s statement, “Anyone who is born again does not sin!” (1 John 5:18). Actually a better translation is “Anyone who is born of God does not continue to commit sin,” meaning, “…does not habitually commit sin.” As a rule of life, sin stops at salvation. Even if we fail on occasion, sin can no longer be the ruling principle of our lives. Persistent sin as an element of our lifestyle must and does cease for the child of God! We must stop sinning, that is as a matter of persistent behavior… lying, cheating, gossiping, selfishness, etc. sin must stop.

In Romans 6, Paul speaks on this topic. His conclusion is that we cannot continue to live in habitual slavery to sin, after we are saved, because, in salvation God has put to death the old life and created a new one. The old life is associated with the death of Christ, it is crucified and over. it is gone (Rom. 6:1-3). The new life is associated with the resurrection of Christ, with its powerful victory over sin and over death (Rom. 6:4, 5, 8). In Romans 6:5-6 Paul explains the point of his analogy, that sin should no longer have mastery over the child of God. A different principle rules in the heart of the believer in Jesus Christ, the principle of the Spirit of Life, who produces holiness and righteousness to the glory of God (Rom. 8:1-4). 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul said that if a person is in Christ he has become a new creation, has been spiritually transformed, and the old life has passed away!

This is not about sinless perfection or being “holier than thou,” rather it is about not allowing sin to gain mastery over us! Paul warns us that if we let sin regain mastery over us, then it will lead to death and damnation, the loss of our salvation and of fellowship with God (Rom. 6:15-18). John and Paul both say that the child of God must gain mastery over persistent and habitual sin! Sin is the habit of the old life. Salvation calls for a new beginning, in which the not-so-perfect believer refuses to live under the control of sin or in habitual sin, but is determined by the grace of God to gain mastery over it (Rom. 6:14a).

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