Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sin and the Believer

I hear the doctrine that all believers must continue to commit sins supported by 1 John 1:8,10 quite often. In fact, the error is so commonplace that I hardly pay it any mind. But I recently read it from a world renowned theologian. That was enough to make me take notice. If a man so respected and brilliant misunderstands these verses perhaps there are others who could benefit from a concise explanation of the text in view.

1 John 1:5 ¶ This then is the message which we have heard from him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The warning of verse 6 is directed to those who walk in darkness though claiming to be in communion with God. According to verse 7 those who walk in the light are being cleansed from all sin. Verse 8 is frequently used as a proof text to support the doctrine that believers continue to sin. Those who claim to have no sin but are in fact lying cannot be the same persons referred to in verse 7 (who are indeed being cleansed from all sin). Verse 8 seems to refer to the group addressed in verse 6 (a heretical group within the church that apparently denied having ever committed sin). Those addressed in verse 9 are "cleansed from all unrighteousness." While those in verse 8 do not have his word in them because they claim to be sinless (apparently refusing to confess their sins and be "cleansed from all unrighteousness").

The subjects of verses 8 and 10 possess neither the truth nor the word. I take that to mean that they are not in God. As such, they are not Christians. Therefore, these verses are not legitimate proof texts for the doctrine that all Christians must continue to commit sins until they die.