Would you please explain 1 John 3:9?


The passage in 1 John 3:9 reads, according to the New King James Bible:

“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 we pointed out in our recent Editorial, ”Begotten and Born Children,” which was published in Update #481, the Greek word which in 1 John 3:9 is translated twice as “born,” is “gennao.” This term can mean “begotten” or “born”; and it can also describe the process from our spiritual begettal to our spiritual birth. We showed that “when addressing the spiritual begettal and birth process, the Bible clearly says that a born-again person IS spirit and invisible (John 3:6, 8); and nobody, who is still human, is therefore born again.

“Christ also said that we must be born again to be able to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). This is true as the Kingdom of God is the Family of GOD, composed of Spirit, and human eyes cannot see God or the Kingdom of God (1 Timothy 6:16). We even read that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). In order to be able to enter God’s Kingdom, we must be spirit, as God is Spirit (John 4:24), and we must be God, as God is God (1 Corinthians 15:49; Hebrews 1:1-3).”

We also addressed the fact that “when we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time of our baptism (after repentance and faith in the Sacrifice of Christ and belief in the gospel of the Kingdom of God), we are begotten by the Spirit, and we have thereby already become children of God; or, we might say, we have become part of the Kingdom of God ‘in embryo.’ As begotten children, we must grow in the knowledge and understanding of the truth (2 Peter 3:18). We are desirous of the pure milk of the word (1 Peter 2:2), being nurtured by our ‘mother’ (Galatians 4:26)– the church of God — as a new-born human child is being fed and cared for by his or her human mother (compare Ephesians 4:11-16, telling us that we are to be edified by the ministry to be able to grow up in all things into Christ)… As Spirit-begotten children of God, we ought to have the desire to become perfect, as the Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48); to become pure as Jesus Christ is pure (1 John 3:3); to overcome [the world’s societies], Satan and self, as Christ overcame (Revelation 3:21; John 16:33; Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 8:3).”

With this background, let us now focus on 1 John 3:9. As mentioned, since the word ”gennao” can mean “begotten” or “born,” depending on the context, we need to determine the intended meaning.

We pointed out the following in our free booklet, “Are You Already Born Again?”

“Additional Scriptural proof that we are not yet born again is found in 1 John 3:9, where we read: ‘Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed [the Holy Spirit] remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.’ Notice, too, 1 John 5:18, ‘We know that whoever is born of God does not sin.’

“According to these passages, one who is born again CANNOT and DOES NOT sin. The only being that CANNOT sin is God. Even Jesus Christ, when He was here on earth as a human being, COULD HAVE sinned. He was in all points tempted as we are, though He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). The fact that He was tempted shows that it was possible for Him to sin. It also shows that He was fully man, as God cannot be tempted to sin (James 1:13). When it comes to Christians, however, they DO sin from time to time, even after receiving the Holy Spirit.

“We read in 1 John 1:7–10: ‘But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son CLEANSES us from all sin. 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.’

“Notice that John says two things here. He emphasizes that we DID sin in the past, and also, that we still DO sin now. He uses the past and the present tense. He is talking to Christians—those who have received the Holy Spirit. Yes, Christians DO sin from time to time! They CAN sin, which means that they CANNOT already be born again, because those who are born again CANNOT sin. God will bring many sons and daughters into His Family through a resurrection or change to immortality. THEN, they will be BORN AGAIN God beings, and as such, they will be UNABLE to sin.

“Some who want to uphold their teaching that we are already born again translate 1 John 3:9 as, ‘cannot abide in the state of sin.’ However, this is not what the Scripture says. Rather, the correct translation, word for word from the Greek, reads, ‘… he is not able to sin.’ The Biblical truth is very plain: One who is born again is UNABLE to sin.”

Most translations of 1 John 3:9 prefer the rendering “born” in both instances, as quoted at the beginning of this Q&A from the New King James Bible, but they falsely assume that we are already born again now. However, when concluding that 1 John 3:9 refers to the here and now, a few translations choose the rendering, “begotten.” For instance, the New American Bible says:

“No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God.” The Swiss Zuercher Bible also uses twice the word “begotten,” while the German Menge Bible and the Elberfelder Bible give both alternatives (in parenthesis in the text, or in a footnote).

Other translations, realizing the potential difficulties with making a particular choice (especially, when they teach that we are already born again now), state more ambiguously:

“No child of God commits sin, because the divine seed remains in him; indeed because he is God’s child he cannot sin” (Revised English Bible; similar the New Jerusalem Bible).

Some who feel that the passage does refer to us here and now, but realizing that John could not have said that it is impossible for Christians to sin (see the discussion above), claim that the phrase, “he cannot sin,” should be rendered as, “he cannot continue practicing sin,” or, “he cannot habitually sin.” The International Version says, “he cannot go on sinning,” and the Living Bible states, “… [he] does not make a practice of sinning, because now God’s life is in him; so he can’t keep on sinning…”

Notice, too, how the Amplified Bible renders this verse, obviously unwilling to make a definite choice—the words in parenthesis and in brackets are in the original:

“No one born (begotten) of God [deliberately and knowingly] habitually practices sin, for God’s nature abides in him—His principle of life, the divine sperm, remains permanently within him—and cannot practice sinning because he is born (begotten) of God.”

We have established so far that if one is truly BORN of God, he CANNOT sin, because then he is God, and God cannot sin. If one wants to say that the passage of 1 John 3:9 refers to the here and now (that is, to begotten Christians today), then one has to add quite a few words to the original text, in an attempt to make it consistent with other passages in John’s writings. Rather than saying that the one who is begotten of God CANNOT sin, one has to say that he cannot CONTINUE PRACTICING sin, or that he CANNOT HABITUALLY PRACTICE sin, or something to that effect. The problem, of course, is that the Greek text does not contain these words—they must be added in order to convey what is perceived to be the intended meaning.

However, another problem arises with these additions when we consider Paul’s own words, which he wrote down YEARS after his conversion and the receipt of the Holy Spirit. This is what he himself said, in Romans 7:14-16, 19, 25:

“… I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that I do… the EVIL I will not to do, that I PRACTICE… So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

This is not to say that Paul was ever indifferent or careless about his sins. He knew that those who PRACTICE evil things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21; Revelation 22:15). He agreed with John who said that those who do not PRACTICE righteousness and who do not love their brothers and sisters in Christ are not of God (1 John 3:10). Paul did not want to sin; he did not want to practice evil, but he realized that at times, he would slip, and that he needed God’s forgiveness and mercy and power and strength to overcome and conquer sin (Romans 7:24-25; 8:37).

Old habits die slowly and only with difficulty and under severe trials and tests. It is possible for a Christian to repeat the same sin repeatedly, out of habit. But upon continued and ongoing repentance and belief in Christ’s Sacrifice and with the genuine desire to forsake those sins (Proverbs 28:13), they will be forgiven him, and God’s seed—the Holy Spirit–will remain in such a person. It is only that when we refuse to repent and change, we are in danger of losing God’s Spirit (Hebrews 6:4-6). God is most certainly not less merciful than what He requires of us. He is most certainly not limiting Himself to just forgiving us the same sins only once or twice, when we truly repent, while Christ told Peter that he needed to forgive his repentant brother seventy times seven, upon his repentance (Matthew 18:21-22; compare Luke 17:3-4).

Therefore, we conclude that 1 John 3:9 does not address begotten Christians today, in this day and age, but rather, that it makes the profound statement that once we are truly born again, we will not sin anymore. It will be impossible for us to sin—to even commit one single sin, let alone practicing sin—because it is impossible for God to sin, and we will be God, with God’s Holy Spirit remaining in us and flowing out from us forever (John 7:37-39).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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