Soteriology 0491 John 3:9 • Dr. Andy Woods • February 19, 2017 • Soteriology - The Doctrine of Salvation
Soteriology 49, 1 John 3:9
February 19, 2017
Father, we thank You for today, we thank You for Your grace and we thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You Lord for the fact that when we are faithless You remain faithful, You cannot deny Yourself. We ask Lord for the illuminating ministry of the Spirit in this Sunday School class this morning and also in the worship service that follows. And I ask, Father, that You would change the way we think so that we can think the way You would have us to think. We want You to be the authority, Father, in this church and in our lives, and we’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We lift these things up in Jesus name and God’s people said Amen.
If we could open our Bibles to the book of 1 John, chapter 3 and verse 9, continuing to work through the difficult doctrine of eternal security, and of course we all know that eternal security is the belief that the grace that saved you is the grace that keeps you. So I’m not kept by God based on my own merits (thank God for that, Amen). I’m kept by His grace towards me and if that’s true I can’t lose my salvation.
We’ve gone through a plethora of arguments defending eternal security, and I didn’t want to end the study there, I wanted to go deeper because when you get into this subject of eternal security you find the body of Christ very severely divided on it so there must be other verses that people use to deny security. What we’ve been doing is spending our time going through a lot of passages, Old Testament and New Testament, which at first glance seem to deny the doctrine of the security of the believer. And of late we’ve been in 1 John. Last week we looked at 1 John 2:3, and this morning we’re going to look at a very, very difficult verse that other than Hebrews 6:4-6, which we’ve gone through, 1 John 3:9 looks really strongly at first glance like you can lose your salvation.
1 John 3:9 says this, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Now you look at that and it’s a very difficult passage for my point of view, which is the only thing sin can do in the life of the believer is break fellowship between you and God. And lo and behold 1 John 3:9 comes along and said if you’re “born of God” not only cannot you not practice sin but it even goes on at the end there and says you “cannot sin.” So does that bother anybody? So let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on here in 1 John 3:9; it’s not the easiest verse in the Bible to wrap our arms around.
Here’s sort of an outline I put together to help us navigate our way through this difficult passage. A lot of people will tell you that the believer never sins; now why would they say that? They say that because at the end of the verse it says “and he” that’s the believer who’s been born again, “cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
Now obviously that can’t be true, can it? We know it’s not true because of the habits in our own lives, right? But go back to 1 John 1:8-10 and let me show you very quickly why this cannot be teaching the believer cannot sin. And this is one of the problems with a lot of Bible interpreters, is they start right in the middle of a book and they don’t pay attention to what happens towards the beginning of the book. 1 John 8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin,” now “sin” there is a singular noun, hamartia, and I think when he says “If we say that we have no sin” he’s basically talking about people who say they don’t even have a sin nature any more. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And then verse 10 of 1 John 1 says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him” out to be a what? “a liar and His word is not in us.”
So very clearly when you look at these beginning verses in 1 John they’re not saying that the believer never sins or the believer never has a sin nature. Actually it says the opposite, if you reach a point in your Christian life where you don’t think you have a sin nature that competes with the new nature then you don’t even belong to Christ at all, you could be self-deceived. And of course you say well then, if we do sin as Christians what’s the provision God gives us to restore broken fellowship and it’s right there in verse 9, which says, “If we confess our sins,” now notice John says “our sins,” there was apparently sins in John’s life too. Does that make you feel any better? “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So obviously if 1 John 1:8-10 is true 1 John 3:9 cannot be teaching that the believer never sins or it’s impossible for the believer to sin. Now there will be a phase in your salvation history when you won’t be able to sin at all and that’s not now but it’s in glorification. As long as you’re in your current body the opportunity is always there to return to the old sin nature. You don’t have to but the temptation is always there. So obviously these verses can’t be teaching that the believer never sins. If Paul is teaching the believer never sins then Romans 6:12-14 makes no sense.
Paul says in Romans 6:12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,” now is he talking here to believers or unbelievers? Believers!  “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” So the command that “do not let sin reign in your mortal body” that command would have no meaning if I didn’t even have some kind of ability as a saved person to go back to the sin nature. There probably isn’t a book in the Bible that outlines our current position in Christ and the resources that we have to overcome sin because we have been justified before God, we’re on path to glory, and as we walk moment by moment depending on the Holy Spirit we have the ability even to make progress in the middle tense of our salvation, progressive sanctification.
So Paul has outlined all of that and yet at the very end of the book of Romans, in chapter 13:14 Paul says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Aha, “the flesh in regard to its lusts” must still be resident in me in spite of all the glorious truths that Paul has spoken about me as a Christian in Romans 1-12. So having said all that, 1 John 3:9 could not be teaching that the believer never sins; that would contradict what Paul said and contradict what John said earlier in his book. So we can kind of dismiss that option as a way to interpret 1 John 3:9.
If that’s true then what is 1 John 3:9 saying, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” The common interpretation you get from this is the following: The believer cannot habitually practice sin, so if there is a habit of an ongoing sin pattern in your life of some sort, which is never brought into submission to Christ, whatever your vice is or my vice is, then there is room (people say) to open up doubts about whether you’re saved.
So the Reformed camp comes in and says… and you’ll hear this all the time from them, they love this verse because it supports their theology, they would say you’re really not a true Christian; they would say you’re what’s called a… you have faith that’s spurious but not real. The Arminian camp comes in and says well, you may have had your salvation but because you didn’t conquer a sin pattern in your life through God’s power then what happened to your salvation? You lost it. And that’s how most of them interpret 1 John 3:9.
I don’t think that’s the right interpretation of this verse, and before I give you what I think is the right interpretation let me show you some reasons why I don’t think that’s a correct understanding. For one thing, what is happening here is the present tense and the verb translated “practices sin” is in the present tense. So people say well, if there’s habitual sin in your life maybe you’re not a Christian, maybe you lost your salvation. I believe that that is an abuse of the present tense verb. The reason I say that is because the present tense is tricky; it does not always mean habitual. The present tense is sometimes used in Greek to describe something that’s current, happening now in other words. In other words, I’m looking out the window and I’m seeing people, present tense, arrive late for Sunday School. See, I just went back to the sin nature, doggone it; so I’m seeing people, now that is not talking about a habit, I don’t sit up here Monday through Saturday and look at the parking lot to see people, I mean, if I did that it might be time for retirement or the funny farm, one of the two.
So I can use the present tense to describe something that’s happening now, it’s not necessarily describing an ongoing habit. Do you see the difference there? And people, when they give you this view they never tell you that the present tense is very tricky, it doesn’t always mean habitual; it could mean seeing something in progress in the present. So my professor, W. Hall Harris III, wrote some commentaries on 1 John and I don’t think he really agrees with the view that I am teaching here but he’s an honest Greek scholar and he makes a statement in his commentary about the abuse of the present tense.
He says, “A popular interpretation of these verses distinguishes between occasional sin (which every Christian commits) and a continuing lifestyle of sin, which a genuine Christian cannot pursue. Appeal is usually made to the present tense to support this view. The Greek present tense describes ongoing action (action in progress). The problem with this view is that the author of 1 John does not appear to distinguish anywhere else between lifestyle of sin and occasional acts of sin. Also, to make a significant interpretive point on the basis of the Greek text alone is extremely subtle. One can only wonder whether John’s readers would’ve gotten the point.” [1, 2, 3 John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis (Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 143.]
So what he’s acknowledging here is you can’t build your view of 1 John 3:9 just on the present tense. The present tense is tricky, it doesn’t always mean habitual and people that use 1 John 3:9 to support Calvinism or Arminianism never tell you that.
Another problem with how 1 John 3:9 is used is they’re ignoring the book ends of 1 John; the book ends are the beginning and the ending. Both bookends open the door to the possibility of regular sin in the life of the Christian. Notice 1 John 1:9, we’re already read it, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Now when he says “if we confess” that is in the present tense, so that is acknowledging that there could be regular confession of sins in the life of the believer. So that opens the door to present tense sin being in the Christian.
And then notice the end of the book, the opposite bookend, 1 John 5:16 which says, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.” Now what is the “sin leading to death”? We’re going to talk about that, probably next week and I wasn’t bringing it up to get into what is the “sin leading to death,” what I’m trying to point out is what I’ve got underlined there. “If anyone sees his” what? “brother,” is the person that is seen here a believer or an unbeliever? A believer. “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin,” now “committing a sin” is a verb that’s in the present tense, see that? So the ending of the book and the beginning of the book both open up the possibility that present tense sin can exist in the life of the child of God without calling into question the justified status of the child of God.
Now when I talk like this people misunderstand and they think I’m saying it’s okay to have present tense sin in your life; I’m not saying that at all! What I’m saying is that shuts down the middle tense of your salvation, not the first tense of your salvation, or the third tense of your salvation. Are you with me on that? So the use of the present tense to support a theological point, to my mind, contradicts the book ends of 1 John. It also contradicts a plethora of biblical examples. There are an awful lot of people in the Bible, and this is one of the reasons I believe the Bible has to be from God, because it gives the whole story of the good, the bad and the ugly.
I mean, aren’t you glad you weren’t around in biblical times where your story would be recorded for the generations to see. I mean, there’s high points in my life, low points in my life and you see in the lives of people whose salvation is not in doubt sometimes ongoing sin patterns. Abraham had a problem with lying, there’s two occasions where Abraham says Sarah is my sister, which is sort of true, she actually was his half-sister, if I remember the genealogy right, but he was trying to get out of being killed because the pagan king wanted Sarah and wanted to get Abraham out of the way and he said oh this is not my wife, she’s my sister. Now he does this at least twice and sometimes after great victories that he’s had, like right after the height of his faith in Genesis 22 where he’s willing to sacrifice Isaac. You can’t get a higher point of your progressive sanctification than that and in the very next chapter he’s telling a lie.
Moses, I think had an anger problem, I don’t know if I can blame Moses for that, how would you like to wander around with these people for forty years and them complaining all the time. But he lost his cool, I think that’s what’s going on with the striking of the rock. David, as you know, committed adultery and murder and people say well, he repented. Yeah, he did, after like a year or so. But he walked around and just pretended like nothing was wrong for a whole year; he was practicing sin. Peter denied Christ three times and you say well wait a minute, Peter came back. Well yeah, he did come back, but have you read Galatians 2 lately? Peter, in Galatians 2 (this is post cross, post resurrection, post ascension, post the day of Pentecost) is feeling the heat from the unbelieving Jews and he starts to move into legalism that was so severe that Paul the apostle had to confront Peter to his face.
And you know, with these examples I’ve given, of course you could find examples where they did repent and come back but I can show you many examples in the Bible of people that never repented of sin. Like for example, Lot, there’s no doubt Lot is saved because Lot is called a righteous man three times in 2 Peter 2:7-8. [2 Peter 2:7-8, “and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men  (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds)”]. And yet how does the story of Lot end? With him drunk with his daughters committing incest. So you can take the man out of Sodom but you can’t take Sodom and Gomorrah out of the man. And that’s how the sad story of Lot ends.
You get into the story of Solomon with his many wives and concubines and all the things he got involved in in the last part of his life. You read 1 Kings 11, there’s no evidence (in that chapter anyway) that Solomon returned to the Lord. You have Ananias and Sapphira and I’ve explained before that I’m pretty sure Ananias and Sapphira were believers because when they were slain in the Spirit the whole church fell into fear, Acts 5:11 and yet they were taken home early by God because of the sin of lying to the Holy Spirit. So there’s an example of people that didn’t end their life on a positive note. [Acts 5:11, “And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.”]
And then you have the whole Corinthians, now I think the whole Corinthian church is saved, that’s why they’re called saints in chapter 1, verse 2. Their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, chapter 6:19. There is no gift lacking in their midst, 1 Corinthians 1:7, and yet Paul talks about some Corinthians that were drunk and disorderly at the Lord’s table and the Lord killed them. So they did not go out on a high note spiritually? [1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” 1 Corinthians 1:7, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”]
My point is if you get into this idea of there can never be an ongoing pattern of sin in the life of a Christian for a person to be a legitimate Christian you have a lot of problems because you’ve got plenty of biblical examples of ongoing continuous sin in the life of people that to me are very clearly called believers.
And another problem with how these two camps, Calvinism and Arminianism, are using 1 John 3:9 is a practical problem. 1 John 3:9, going back there just for a minute, which is the key text that we’re looking at this morning, 1 John 3:9 once again says, “No one who is born of God practices sin, [because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”] There’s a practical problem here; how many times do I have to sin before it becomes a practice? Who makes that determination? I mean, is it once, is it twice, is it three times? Isn’t once enough? For example, there’s people that are convicted of the crime of murder in this country and they can’t go before the judge and say well judge, I only did it one time, it’s not an ongoing habit. So you have a practical problem with defining what actually constitutes a habit. Doing something once is severe enough. So the whole thing gets very subjective.
And the Reformed camp basically comes in and says you know when you come to Christ your faith is not even yours, it’s a gift, God basically regenerates you first so you can believe, and if that faith is real then in essence your life should be improving, you should be sinning less and less, that’s their point. And if you’re not sinning less and less then you’re not a Christian, is what they say, you don’t have the real faith, you’re not one of the elect, you don’t have the gift of faith. Now let me ask a simple question, if that’s true, if God coming into my life makes me sin less and less shouldn’t it also be true that I shouldn’t sin at all? I mean, if their doctrine is true I should not sin ever. So when they say well, you’ve just got to sin less and less to prove you’re saved I think they’re hedging a little bit on their own way of thinking.
What I’m getting at is you have, if you get into this subject of if there’s ongoing sin in your life you’re not a Christian mindset, you’ve got a host of problems practically that you have to start thinking about. And one of the reasons I like to talk about this subject is because to me this is not a theological… it is a theological issue but this is a pastoral issue because people go through the church their whole lives wondering if they’re saved. And I believe that if you’re going through your Christian life wondering if you’re a Christian or not then you’re living beneath your privileges because one of your rights as a child of God is the assurance of salvation. It’s not just having the promise of eternal security but it’s actually going a step forward and knowing you actually possess that promise because a lot of people will say I believe in eternal security, I just don’t know if I’m one of the elect.
John Piper, I kind of call him the Pied Piper because he has so much influence. I mean, churches everywhere are doing these John Piper studies and John Piper groups and John Piper videos and going to these John Piper conferences. And I’m not denying that the man doesn’t have some good things to say but anytime someone comes into this church and wants to promote John Piper I’m very nervous about it because John Piper says some things that are just frankly a denial of the assurance of salvation. So John Piper says no Christian can be sure that he is a true believer, hence there is an ongoing need to be dedicated to the Lord, to deny ourselves so that we might make it. Notice he says we might make it, he doesn’t say we will make it, he says we might make it. And notice who he puts the pressure on, I’ve got to dedicate myself to the Lord, I’ve got to deny myself, and notice how subjective those terms are. How do you quantify exactly whether you’re completely dedicated to the Lord or not and completely denying yourself?
So the theology of John Piper, which is five point Calvinism, unlocks the door to people not having assurance. And you have to figure out really fast in your Christian life which John you want to listen to. Do you want to listen to John Piper or do you want to listen to John 5:24 which records the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My words and believes Him who sent me Me” what, maybe has eternal life, maybe not… it doesn’t say that, “has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” So once you believe or trust in Christ then you have the promise of God, who by the way cannot lie, that you have eternal life, present tense, and you have already, it’s not a process, it’s in the perfect tense, one time action in the past with ongoing results, you’ve already passed out of death unto life.
Jesus says something very similar a chapter later, in John 6:47, He says, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has” present tense, “eternal life.” There is no ambiguity, there’s no doubt here, and that of course is very different than the quote I put up earlier by John Piper. And just so you don’t think this is crazy talk the way I’m talking here was the foundation of Dallas Theological Seminary founded in 1920 something, Article XI, the assurance of salvation. It says, “We believe it is the privilege, not only of some, but of…” who? The pastors and the elders and the deacons…. No, it doesn’t say that, “but of all by the Spirit through faith who are born again in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, to be assured of their salvation” when? “from the very day they take Him to be their Savior” that’s very different than what John Piper says. John Piper says no Christian has a right to assume he or she is going to heaven. The Dallas Seminary doctrinal statement, based on those passages from John (not John Piper, the John) indicate that you can be assured of your salvation the moment you trust Christ. That’s your right as a child of God.
Now where does this come from? This is the key, “and that this assurance is not founded upon any fancied discovery of their own worthiness” this is the problem, people are looking at themselves which is a very depressing subject when you think about it. “…but wholly upon the testimony of God in His” what? Word, which comes through a liver quiver… no! “written Word,” the object of truth of God’s Word is you have the right as a child of God to be assured of your salvation, that is what God has objectively revealed, it is in print, it is unambiguous, and as you look at the promises of Christ rather than your own shortcomings you’ll grow in your awareness of the assurance of your salvation. That’s what God wants, and He wants you to serve Him out of that motive. You’re not serving God because you’re afraid He’s going to rip the carpet out from under you; that would be a fear based relationship, wouldn’t it? You’re serving God because you can’t believe what he’s done, which I think is an actually more powerful motive to serve God when you think about it.
So putting all these things together I don’t think the Calvinist or the Armenian view of 1 John 3:9 is right. I think it’s far better to handle this verse by focusing, not on the issue of justification but on the issue of fellowship… fellowship! We all know the three tenses of salvation, most people want to look at 1 John 3:9 through the lens of justification. I think it’s far better to look through the lens of sanctification because, and we’ve gone through all of these verses, as you go through these descriptors in 1 John it’s obvious that he’s dealing with saved people. They have the Spirit’s anointing, and they’re called children of God and all of these other things that we’ve walked through in prior classes so I won’t belabor that.
And once you move in that direction you start to see why John, at the beginning of the book unloads his purpose statement. The purpose statement in 1 John is in verses 3-4 of chapter 1, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have” what? “fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.  These things we write, so that” you can be afraid of going into hell… no! “These things we write” to you “so that” what? “our joy may be made complete.” The whole point of the book is to get a saved audience to walk in fellowship with the Lord. I’ve given the example of marriage before, if you’re married to someone and you commit a sin against your marital partner, either in thought, word or deed, something that you’ve done or even not done, and that does not destroy the fact that you’re married. Your position as a married couple is still there. What that destroys is your moment by moment enjoyment of your spouse. So fellowship, until that sin is acknowledged and confessed, is hampered. That’s what 1 John is about.
And he makes this very clear because he gives us his purpose statement right out of the gate in verses 3 and 4 of chapter 1. Now that should come as no surprise because who was sitting there in the Upper Room when Jesus taught the vine and the branches? John! Now this was sixty years earlier but he was sitting in the Upper Room along with the eleven other disciples, there’s no unbelievers in the crowd, the only unbeliever in the crowd had left the room… who was the only unbeliever—Judas, he left the room in John 13. So when Jesus makes this statement He’s talking to eleven saved people.
He says “abide,” that’s menō, that’s another way of saying fellowship, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [John 15:4-5] So He’s not getting at here the subject of justification, He’s assumed that. He’s moving here into the realm of abiding or the realm of fellowship. He’s not talking about how to become a Christian, He’s talking about the source of power in the Christian life.
Now you might be asking the question, well how do I really know if I as a Christian, who’s eternally secure, if I’m abiding in Christ or not. Well I recommend a very good book for you, it’s called 1 John, because John who heard this is 60 years later unpacking or amplifying on this truth that he heard Christ teach. You say well you can’t trust John to remember all this stuff, I mean, he’s an old man now and it’s sixty years later. But remember the promise of Christ? The Spirit is going to come and He’s going to bring all things to your remembrance. [John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”]
So this is what’s happening to John, the Holy Spirit is stirring him up because he’s ready to pass off the scene. He’s the last living apostle and he really writes a book to amplify this truth that he heard Christ speak; he does it in 1 John, 2 John and 3 John. And that becomes obvious when you look at the things John emphasizes in his very short five chapter book. John, in his Gospel, mentions the word “believe” 99 times, so his primary purpose in writing the Gospel of John is to get folks saved. And in 1 John, which is a much shorter book, he only mentions “believe” 6 times but what does he mention 21 times in 1 John? “Abide,” the Greek word menō. The purpose statement of John’s Gospel is, “Therefore many other signs Jesus performed in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book,  but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have” what? “life in His name.” [John 20:30-31]
That seems to indicate that he’s writing to people that hadn’t yet believed in Jesus and didn’t have “life in His name.” So the Gospel of John—evangelism; 1 John is what? Fellowship–koinónia. How does a saved person know when they’re out of fellowship with God and how does a saved person get back in fellowship with God? And unless you make these distinctions that I’m making you’re confused your whole life as to what 1 John is talking about. So having said all that how in the world are we going to explain 1 John 3:9 in light of what I just said?
We’re going to start off by looking at the context. Go back to 1 John 2:28-29 which is earlier. “Now, little” what? “children” so they’re believers, right? What does he say now? “abide in Him,” menō koinónia, have fellowship with Him, stay in fellowship with Him. If you’re out of fellowship with Him get back in fellowship with Him, that’s the context. [1 John 2:28-29, “Now, little children, abide in Him so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.  If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”]
And then you go from there to 1 John 3:6 (which is right before 1 John 3:9) where it says, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Now here in 1 John 3:6 he indicates that the person that’s not walking in sin is not the person that’s saved but the person that’s in fellowship. So 1 John 3:6 is not teaching that the way you figure out if you’re a Christian or not a Christian is you don’t sin. That’s not the point. 1 John 3:6 says the way you, as a saved person, a born again Christian, figure out if you are in fellowship with Him or out of fellowship with Him is you ask a simple question—is there sin in my life? One of the things he says is no one who abides in Him hateth his brother. So if I have all these angry thoughts of revenge and all these kinds of things what am I to conclude from that? I’m not to conclude that I must not be a Christian; I’m to conclude from that that at that specific moment fellowship, not salvation, not position, fellowship between myself and God has been severed. That’s why John uses hatred of the brethren as a test to determine fellowship. Do you see that?
Now “knows Him” and “has seen Him” just a couple of words on that. A person cannot abide in Christ and sin simultaneously. I’m not saying a Christian can never sin but if a Christian is abiding he cannot be sinning at that point, it’s an impossibility. “Seen” or “know” is in the perfect tense and a state of being verb, conveying a state of intensity or intimacy. “See” or “seen” is not talking about oh I just saw someone once as a casual spectator; it’s like talking about I’m seeing someone, so when your grandchildren come home and say I’m seeing someone, or your children, I’m seeing someone, they’re not saying oh I saw someone once, it’s talking about a state of intimacy. And it’s the same with know, that’s the same verb structure which as I said before is a state of being verb. Know is not just oh, I know a fact about something; it’s speaking of intimacy. You remember Genesis 4:1, “Adam knew his wife Eve,” [“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.” Genesis 4:1, KJV] That’s not saying I just memorized a fact about Eve. He “knew” her in the most intimate way a man can know a woman, sexual intimacy. How do I know that? Because she got pregnant because of it. Cain came forth as a result.
I think that’s what 1 John 3:6 is talking about. [1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”] 1 John 3:7 says, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;” In other words, if I’m abiding in Christ and I begin to manifest in my daily life the righteousness of Jesus Christ what can the world see in me? Jesus Christ. They can see in me a standard of what righteousness is. Now that is not a promise that accrues to every child of God. That is a promise, going back to 1 John 3:6, 1 John 2:28, it is a promise of the child of God that is abiding in Christ. [1 John 2:28, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”]
And then finally we come to our verse, and I have to give you all this background because you won’t understand the interpretation I’m going to give you in 1 John 3:9 without this background. This is really part of the problem because people are cherry picking 1 John 3:9 to support their theological system, whatever it may be. They’re not starting the way we’re starting, at the beginning of the book and getting into the background. Most Christians, God forbid, have almost no understanding of all of the things I’ve said for the last 45 minutes. So consequently they are not interpreting 1 John 3:9 right.
So what then does 1 John 3:9 say? “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His” what? “seed abides in him;” now here’s the way I used to interpret this and I still think it’s a viable option. When John makes a reference to “seed” in you, he’s talking about your new nature. The new nature in and of itself has no ability to sin; the old nature does but he’s not making a statement about the old nature. He’s made a statement about the old nature earlier in the book; here he’s making a statement about the new nature. So that’s how I used to… I still like this interpretation, it works, it’s a way to understand 1 John 3:9 in light of the fellowship theme that we’ve been talking about, that there can be sin in the life of the Christian, that sin in the life of the Christian does not cancel their justification but damages their fellowship. So 1 John is a tool box on how to know that you’re in fellowship with God as a Christian and how to get back in fellowship with God.
So 1 John 3:9, if you just focus on the word “seed” meaning new nature, that’s one possible way of understanding 1 John 3:9 in light of the overall purpose of the book. However, I’ve discovered recently a more excellent way. Now I wish I came up with this, I didn’t, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. It’s in the book that I’ve been using all the way through this study by Dennis Rokser, entitled Shall Never Perish Forever. And I was completely unaware of this approach; that’s why I read his book, Shall Never Perish Forever, page 277-287, Dennis Rokser, the pastor-teacher at Duluth Bible Church. He uses a phrase that he got from Yarborough, a commentator, called ubiquitous shorthand. Can you say that with me? “Ubiquitous shorthand.” What does ubiquitous mean? It means everywhere; ubiquitous is something that’s all encompassing. What is shorthand? Shorthand is you make a statement and then when you restate the statement you don’t repeat everything in the first statement, you just give the highlights. So shorthand would go something like this: we would like for you to join us for a meal at 6:00 p.m., can you make it at 6 p.m.? Now when I say “can you make it at 6 p.m.” what have I just left off? The meal, we’d like for you to join us, so when I repeat the statement I’m using shorthand. See that?
Now he uses this expression “ubiquitous shorthand” because biblical writers do this all the time. John wrote to those who were familiar with his teaching. So he doesn’t have to restate everything over and over again, and one of the things to understand is in the ancient world they didn’t have unlimited copy machines, Xerox, faxes, you were scribbling on these little scrolls, you didn’t have a lot of supplies so you had a tendency to use shorthand a lot. John tells us over and over again in his writings that I’m going to use shorthand. Remember what he said in his Gospel, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are” what? “not written in this book.” He says you know, I suppose if I told you everything the world itself could not contain the books that are written.
So in John 20:31 he says I’m using shorthand in this gospel, I’m not telling you everything about Jesus. [John 30:21, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”] He says it again at the end of his gospel, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” [John 21:25]
So John has clued us in that he’s going to use shorthand, right? You go to 2 John 12 he says almost the same thing, “Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; [but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.”] I want a face to face conversation.
If that weren’t enough he says the same thing in 3 John,  “I had many things to write to you, but I’m not willing to write them to you with pen and ink.  but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.” What is John saying over and over again? I’m going to give you shorthand, I’m not going to tell you everything. So you have to put yourself back in the first century as someone receiving this letter. What you will discover as you go through John’s writings is he uses shorthand all the time. He leaves words out all the time. For example, in John 15:4 he says, according to the words of Christ, “Abide in Me, and I in you.” Well how come he doesn’t say “Abide in Me and I [will abide] in you.” See that bracketed part there, I added that; that’s longhand, what he left out is shorthand.
1 John 2:3-5 he uses shorthand. ““By this we know that we have come to know Him” by what? He doesn’t tell me, I would assume “[by fellowship, 1:2–2:2], if we keep His commandments.” He goes on at the end and he says, “in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are” I’m going to add “in fellowship with Him” based on what? Am I just adding that in because that’s my theology? No, that’s what he talked about earlier in the chapter. I’m just giving you examples of ubiquitous shorthand.
1 John 2:7-11, “The one who says he is in the light,” now I think he could have added, writing in longhand, walking and abiding in the Light. Why would I say that? Because he’s indicated walking and abiding in the Light back in chapter 1, verse 7. So when he repeats something he doesn’t repeat the full panoply of what he said, he uses shorthand. See that.
1 John 2:7-11, a brother who is “in the darkness,” now I think what he meant to say with longhand is walking or abiding in the darkness. Why would I add that? Because that’s what he said about walking in the darkness back in chapter 1, verse 6. “But the one who hates his brother,” now who’s his brother? A fellow believer. Why doesn’t he tell us the brother is a fellow believer? Because he’s already assumed that we know that. “…is abiding in the darkness” why did I add “abiding”? Because that’s what he talked about back in chapter 2, verse 10.
1 John 3:24, The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.” That’s shorthand, if you want longhand it should say “He abides in him.” Well, why would I add that expression, “He abides in him”? Because that’s the expression that Jesus used in John 15:4 that John heard Jesus say.
1 John 4:13, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, [because He has given us of His Spirit.]” Now when he says “He in us” he left out which word? “abides” why would I just willy-nilly add the word abide? Because earlier in the book he’s identified the need for the believer to abide in Christ. In other words, I know this is something you may have never thought about before and to be honest with you I had to really think about this and pray about it before I introduced it to you, but it is a reality of shorthand happening all of the time in the New Testament writers, particularly John. John has told us he’s going to write in shorthand. And you see, this is the problem of building your technology from 1 John3:9 because by the time we get to 1 John 3:9 there’s a lot of shorthand going on here because he’s already developed his points in 1 John 3:6, in 1 John 2:28. So why would he have to repeat himself by the time you get to 1 John 3:9.
[1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” 1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” 1 John 2:28, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”]
1 John 4:15 says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Now what did he just leave out? “abides” I’m pretty confident that’s what he meant because that’s what he said earlier in the book.
Do you follow what I’m getting at here? So what did he say exactly in 1 John 3:6 which comes before 1 John 3:9? Do you guys agree with that thinking that 1 John 3:6 comes before 1 John 3:9? Okay, just checking. He said “No one who” what? “abides in Him sins;” that’s what He’s saying. He’s not saying earlier in the book that if you’re a Christian there should never be any sin in your life. What he’s saying is here is how you know if you, as a saved person, are walking moment by moment with Christ; you at that point cannot be in sin because if you are in sin it doesn’t cancel your justification, which is eternally secure. What it thwarts is your fellowship with God, your fruit bearing capacities are thwarted at that point.
So with that in mind and if this ubiquitous shorthand idea is true how do we handle 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” I think 1 John 3:9 is shorthand for 1 John 3:6 which is long hand. Therefore when I get to 1 John 3:9 I’m not starting my study with 1 John 3:9, I’m starting my study with 1 John 1:1, but by the time I get the author’s points I know that by towards the end of the book (this would be more than at least halfway through the book) he’s using shorthand, so 1 John 3:9 really should say this: “No one who is born of God practices sin,” I feel comfortable adding “when abiding in Him.” Well why would I just add something to the Bible? Because that was his crystal clear point in verse 6. He said something very clearly in verse 6, he’s not going to repeat himself in verse 9 because of this reality of ubiquitous shorthand. [1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”] 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed” the new nature, now I’m pretty comfortable adding the new nature after the word seed because earlier, much earlier even in the writings of Peter, Peter indicates that we have become partakers of the new nature.
So John writing after Peter I think is defining “seed” as the new nature which is resident in the life of the believer. “No one who is born of God practices sin,” when abiding in Him, “because His seed” the new nature “abides in him; and he cannot sin,” when what? when he is “abiding in Him.” Now why in the world would I just add that? Because that’s what he said in verse 6, just a few verses earlier, ubiquitous shorthand. He doesn’t have the resources to write everything again, the poor guy is trying to write what he can with a crumply old scroll, he doesn’t have a computer, he doesn’t have the logos program, the internet, he doesn’t have a fax machine. I mean the poor guy didn’t even have Facebook, how can you do the will of God without Facebook?
“…and he cannot sin when he is abiding in Him because he is born of God with a” what? “new nature.” So therefore I am adding words, I know that bothers some of you to add things to the Bible, and it bothers me too but I’m saying let’s get out of the twenty-first century for a minute and let’s go back to the first century; let’s think about how necessary shorthand is. And let’s think about how he made a crystal clear statement in verse 6, that he, I don’t think is going to contradict in verse 9. I think he’s using ubiquitous shorthand.
So therefore to my mind that is an alternative handling of 1 John 3:9, that most of the time you’ll never hear that explanation. What people are doing is they’re going to 1 John 3:9, they’re ignoring everything that precedes 1 John 3:9 and they’re grabbing their snowball to support their theological system and they’re hurling their snowball at the other camp. That’s what’s going on. And a lot of times in these theological conflicts we’re not Bible students any more. We’re proof texting the Word of God.
So if you don’t like this ubiquitous shorthand approach you can go back to him making a statement about your new nature only. But I’m just saying there’s another possible option on the table. So therefore 1 John 3:9 does not teach you can lose your salvation; it does not teach you never had your salvation. What it’s saying is if there’s a recurring pattern of sin in your life that will short-circuit your koinónia with Christ, which will damage your fruit-bearing. All right, I talked so much there’s no time for questions. Do you guys have any quick questions. Just think on it..