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1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
The above Scriptures have been used to reassure believers that it is alright to sin. In fact, if we claim to be without sin or that we have not sinned, we are deceiving ourselves and the word of God has no place in us. All we need to do after we sin is to confess our sins to Him. All will be forgiven and we will be purified from all unrighteousness. It is not difficult to see how this can eventually lead to license to sin. After all, since we have sin we cannot help sinning. God will forgive us each time as long as we confess our sins. For that purpose Christ died on the cross for us.
If we study the rest of John’s epistle, however, the interpretation of these Scriptures does not appear to be quite that simple.
1 John 2
1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Immediately in the very next verse, John makes it clear that he is not at all granting license to sin. On the contrary, he wrote the verses so that we will not sin. In fact, in nearly the same breath John teaches:
1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Believers have come to know Jesus Christ if we obey his commands. If we call ourselves “Christians” but do not do what he commands, we actually do not know him and he does not know us. When God’s love is truly made complete in us, we will obey his commands. Not only that, if we claim to live in him, we must walk as Jesus did. Jesus did not walk in sin, but in holiness.
1 John 2:9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
Then John writes that the Lord’s command is for us is to love our brother, but not to love the world or anything in the world. If we love the world we have disobeyed the Lord’s command and that means we do not really know him—we do not know him as Lord and Master. If we did know him as Lord and Master, we would submit to him and obey his commands.
1 John 2:28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
We can be confident and unashamed before him at this coming if we continue in him by doing what is right, and by walking as he did.
1 John 3
1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
John teaches us that Jesus appeared to take away our sins. If we believe on him and live in him, we will not keep on sinning because he has taken away our sins and our sinful nature. John clearly tells us that no Christian or believer who continues to sin has known him. It would behoove us to interpret and to understand 1 John 1:8-10 in light of this. The rest of 1 John certainly does not give us much wiggle room to sin.
John then issues a strict warning so that we are not led astray and thus fall from our secure position (Jude 4; 2 Peter 3:17).
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
If we do what is righteous, we are righteous like the Lord himself. If we do what is sinful, we are of the devil. It is black and white. The reason Jesus appeared was to destroy the devil’s work by setting us free from doing what is sinful. The verses from 1 John certainly cannot be interpreted to give us any kind of freedom at all to sin.
1 John 3:21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
If we want God to grant us what we ask of Him, we must obey his commands and do what pleases him. His commands are to believe in Jesus and to love one another.
What does it mean to love one another?
1 John 4
1 John 4:21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
What does it mean to love our brother?
1 John 5
1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,
If we truly love the Father, we will love His children as well. Likewise, if we love the Father we will obey His commands. The proof that we truly love one another—the “new” command according to 1 John 2:8—is that we love God and carry out his commands. To love our brethren in Christ requires that we obey God’s commands. 1 John does not allow us to get away from obeying God’s commands and walking as Jesus did. It certainly does not give us any freedom to sin. As my professor in Seminary told us, “there is no security in sin.”
1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
We can know without any doubt that we have eternal life and that we can approach God in prayer with confidence because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. If we continue to sin and to disobey His commands, we cannot be sure that we have eternal life. 1 John 1 does not give us much wiggle room to sin, especially to sin repeatedly.
1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
John teaches us that there is sin which cannot be forgiven and will lead to death. Interesting, he does not specify what that sin is. Is it because John knows that if he reveals what the unforgivable sin is, we will take advantage of it and continue to sin but simply limit it to “forgivable” ones?
1 John 5:18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.
Here John cannot be any clearer with regard to his stand on sin. If we are genuinely saved, we will not continue to sin. Jesus through the Holy Spirit will give us power to walk in holiness, and the devil has no power to make us sin.
20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Again, if we truly know him, we will obey his commands. Then, interestingly, John issues his final instruction to us in the final verse of his epistle.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
I do not think John is referring here to physical idols which we worship secretly behind closed doors. We know better than that. He is likely referring to idols in our hearts—friendship with the world (James 4:4), love of the world and of the things in the world. When we love the world and are friends with it, we will walk in the ways of the world. “Bad company corrupts good character.” We will walk not in holiness, but in sin. And we will not have eternal life. Let us not allow any false teaching or misinterpretation of 1 John 1 to lead us astray. Perhaps this is the sin that leads to death—having idols in our hearts which control our thoughts and actions and make us sin continuously.
Occasionally our flesh may get the better of us and we might sin. Under such circumstances the Lord will forgive us when we confess it to him. (Even so, there could be significant earthly consequences for our sin, especially for professed believers who are accountable before God and should know better. King David, even though his sin was forgiven by the Lord, brought much suffering upon his family as a result of his adultery with Bathsheba.) But 1 John 1:8-10 can in no way be justifiably interpreted to mean that we can love the world or be controlled by repeated sin and still be saved as long as we confess our sins to the Lord.
1 John 2:6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
1 John 5:18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin…