Summary: A look at two seemingly contradicting verse about sin in the life of a believer from 1 John.
Great Mysteries of the Faith
Can I Be Without Sin in this Life?
1 John1:8; 1 John 3:6
A few years ago, I was watching a message on television be a relatively famous evangelist. In this message, the evangelist made a statement that stuck with me for quite awhile. He stated that it had been over 20 years since the last time he had sinned. I immediately let out the following response. “What – that can’t be true.” As I thought about this for awhile, I came to the following conclusion. It is either a lie, and the man just sinned again by telling it, or it is the truth. And, if it’s the truth, I’ve got a lot of work to do because I probably sinned last 20 minutes ago as opposed to 20 years ago. As I pondered this more and more, I turned my attention to the Bible for the answer.
I know that God has a sense of humor for many reasons, but this is one of that really sticks out to me. I decided to read the book of 1 John because I know it has a great deal to say about sin. It did not take me long to find the first verse that had to deal with this topic. In 1 John 1:8, it says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There it was, plain as day. This man was lying because this verse tells us that if we claim to be without sin we do not have the truth in us. I felt satisfied with solving the problem, but I kept on reading that night.
I was still pretty proud of my discovery because I kept thinking about how I was right through chapter 2 and into chapter three. Then, a red flag went up. I had just been reading through the chapter when suddenly I realized what I had just read a few verses earlier. I thought to myself, “Did that say what I think it said?” As I returned to look at 1 John 3:6 my fears were realized. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” At this point, I thought my head was going to explode. At first, it said that if we say we are without sin then we are liars. Now, God’s Word is telling me if I keep sinning, I have never seen him or known him. These verse seemed to be contradicting themselves. I knew God’s Word is flawless, but I also knew that both of these verses could not be true the way I was reading them. So which was the truth? It would take years of study and teaching to understand them – and I am still getting there. This morning, I believe a question many Christians have is this – Can I be without sin in this life? This morning, I want to delve into this mystery with the help of the Holy Spirit to reveal what the truth is on this issue according to God’s Word. Before we do this however, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
The Case for Sin in the Life of a Believer
A Sunday School teach after giving a lesson on the gospel decided to review by asking some questions. The first one she asked was, “What must we do before we can receive the forgiveness of sins?” One student quickly responded, “We have to sin.” I think he was right.
Now, I know we are all in agreement with this fact. We are all sinners before we become Christians. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all know that. When we look back at our lives before we were saved, we can point to numerous things that we did that were clearly sins. However, does it all go away? One of the most convincing evidences for this viewpoint is by looking at the experience of other believers. How many of you have committed a sin since you have been saved? I want you to raise your hand if that applies to you, and I want you to look around at how many hands are in the air. If we are honest with each other, all of us have sinned since we have been Christians, so either all of us are not Christians and we think we are, or it is still possible for sin to enter the life of a believer.
I like how Paul phrases this situation in Romans 7. In my Bible, it has a heading above it called “Struggling With Sin.” In verses 15-20, Paul explains the battle raging inside of himself. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is the sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is the sin living in me that does it.” How many of you have been in this situation? You want to do the right thing. You want to live and try and please God. You want to live without sin, and then, you trip up. You sin and start to think, “Why did I just do that? Where did that come from?” You commit the sin and immediately you wonder why you did it and you feel terrible. If you have been in this situation, you are in the same predicament as Paul was. There was a battle raging inside of him. He wanted to do what was right and good, but it did not always turn out that way. So, it is easy to see that Paul struggled with sin even after he was a believer.