WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XLVIII) 09/17/21

3:9 The person who has been born into God’s family does not make a practice of sinning because now God’s life is in them; so, they can’t keep on sinning, for this new life controls them – they have been born again.

Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) says that the KJV translation “and he cannot sin” is incorrect. In English, this naturally means “and he cannot commit sin,” as if it were in the active ongoing tense. That is why the Greek verb hamartanō can only mean “and he cannot go on sinning indefinitely,” as is true of its use of hamartia in verses six and eight. A great deal of false theology has grown out of a misunderstanding of the tense of hamartia here in verse nine.

William Barclay (1907-1978) notes that this verse bristles with difficulties, yet it is essential to determine what it means. First, what does John mean by the phrase “because His seed abides in Him?” There are three possibilities. (1) The Bible frequently uses the word seed to mean a man’s family and descendants. (2) It is a human seed that reproduces human life, and children may be said to have their father’s seed in them. (3) There is a much simpler idea. Twice, at least in the Final Covenant, the words “of God” indicate bringing spiritual rebirth to men and women. James puts it this way: “God chose to give birth to us by giving us His living Word. And we, out of all creation, became His prized possession.”[1] Second, this verse presents us with the problem of relating it to certain other things John has already said about sin.[2]

Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) tells us that a Christian Native American explained what he sees the Apostle John is saying here, “I have two dogs living in me – a mean dog and a good dog. They are always fighting. The mean dog wants me to do bad things, and the good dog wants me to do good things. Do you want to know which dog wins? The one I feed the most!”[3] No doubt he was building this illustration on what we find in the Scriptures, referring to the old sinful-self and the new sanctified-self. The one you feed the most will exert the most significant influence over your behavior.

David H. Stern (1935) clarifies that no one who remains in union with the Anointed One and has God as their heavenly Father continues sinning. The Greek verb hamartanō used here in the present tense implies ongoing action. A number of English versions (among them KJV, the New English Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible) confuse readers by seeming to imply that believers are exempt from sin. For example, the Revised Standard Version: “No one who abides in Him sins…. No one born of God commits sin” … and “he cannot sin.” Yochanan (John) is not saying that once a person confesses faith in Yeshua, they will never again sin. John already makes this clear.[4]

On the contrary, says Stern, John’s point is that no believer should ever intend to sin, that they must not become a habitual sinner, that they cannot continue to reserve for themselves an area of their life devoted to sinful practices. Instead of being defensive and self-excusing, they ought to acknowledge their sins and renounce them. They should not exempt any behavioral pattern from continuous self-scrutiny. No one who has God as their Father keeps on sinning because the seed planted by Him remains in them. “The seed planted by God” is, literally, “His seed.” It refers to the seed of the Gospel, [5] the once-for-all spiritual awareness of who God is and what God wants from His human creatures. The context cannot justify interpreting “His seed” as not being God’s seed, but the person’s seed. From this misinterpretation springs pagan-styled heresies demanding celibacy and asceticism.[6]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) states that in this verse, the Apostle John clarifies that those born of God have been cleansed from their sins and can no longer continue to sin. It is the second of ten references to be being born of God in this epistle. Nowhere in this letter does the author describe what is involved in the process of being “born of God.” His interest is more practical. He is interested in the behavior of those born of God: that “they do right,” “do not sin,” “love one another,” “believe that Jesus is the Anointed One,” and “overcome the world.”[7] An understanding of the process of being born of God is best explained in John’s Gospel. There we find that being born of God is equivalent to becoming a child of God, something which ultimately can only be achieved by the will of God.[8] It is also described as being “born from above” or “born of the Spirit.”[9]

Putting these things together and allowing them to inform our understanding of the present verse, says Kruse, we may say that to be born of God here means being brought to new spiritual life by the will of God and through the agency of His Spirit. Of such people, says John, they can’t continue to sin. John uses a present tense form of the verb “to sinhamartan, indicating that sinning is an ongoing action impossible for those born of God.[10]

Bruce B. Barton (1954) At first glance, these words appear to completely contradict what John said earlier: “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves.[11] This passage states that those born into God’s family do not practice sinning. For John, they can’t keep on sinning because they are God’s children. So, do Christians sin, or don’t they? Experience tells those sinful tendencies exert influence on every Christian. For true believers, however, deep inside their spirits, they aspire not to sin. This motivation comes from the life of God within them. When they were “born again,” a new life was born inside.[12] Once Christians have this new life – they are a new creation through Jesus the Anointed One. Therefore, they do not desire to sin and completely renounce such lawbreaking because it is entirely incompatible with their new life. Although, at times, they may give in to temptation, they are continually fighting against it. Wrongdoing is still active, but it no longer has complete control over them. The Holy Spirit works, through the Word of God, to set His people apart from sin – to make them holy and pure, like the Anointed One.[13] [14]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) states that we can’t live like new people without the new birth. Sin will dominate us. Satan will have his way with us. Hate and not love will fill our hearts. However, as a result of the new birth, the Bible says we cannot make “a practice of sinning,” and we “cannot keep on sinning because [we have] been born of God.[15] These are words that should impart both comfort and humility to us. We are comforted to know sin cannot and will not ultimately win in our lives.

We may stumble, says Akin, or even fall on occasions, but we know “the One who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world.”[16] Our Lord will pick us up and get us moving again in the right direction. We are destined to be like Jesus![17] Neither sin nor Satan will have the last word. These words also humble us because we would forever be enslaved to Satan and sin if not for the Anointed One’s atonement, advocacy, and ascendancy. Any righteousness we do flows from what the Anointed One poured into our lives through the new birth.[18]

David Guzik (1961) believes we can imagine the heart of God grieving over the destruction the devil has wrought over this earth, and grieving that mankind has allowed the devil to do it all. Jesus came to put a stop to all that by overcoming the devil completely by His life, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. Note the purpose of Jesus: to destroy the works of the devil. Not to neutralize them, not to alleviate them, or not to limit them. Jesus wants to destroy the works of the devil! Many people are unnecessarily afraid of the devil, fearing what he could do against them. If they only knew that as we walk with Jesus, the devil is afraid of us! As we commune with Jesus, we can see Him destroy the works of the devil.[19]

Peter Pett (1966) says the plain fact is that if God birthed a person, God’s seed is within them. And those implanted with God’s seed have been made a partaker of the divine nature.[20] With the divine light and life active within, they are children of the Light.[21] Thus there is that inside them which rebels against sin and makes them detest the thought of sinning. Such a person does not want to be a sinner. They cannot continue carelessly sinning because they are born of God and have become a new creation.[22] It is against what they are now. Sin has become contrary to what they are as a new person. So, something new within them begins to say “no” to their sinful tendencies.[23]


[1] James 1:18

[2] Barclay, William: The New Daily Study Bible, op. cit., The Letters of John, pp. 90-91

[3] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real (1 John): Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), op. cit. p. 114

[4] 1 John 1:5-2:2

[5] Matthew 13:1-23

[6] Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[7] 1 John 2:29; 3:9x2; 4:7; 5:1x3, 4, 18x2

[8] John 1:11-12

[9] Ibid 3:3, 5-8

[10] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition.

[11] 1 John 1:8

[12] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[13] 1 John 3:3; See also 5:18

[14] Barton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., pp. 69-70

[15] 1 John 3:9

[16] Ibid. 4:4

[17] Ibid. 3:2; Romans 8:29-30

[18] Akin, Dr. Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[19] Guzik, David – Enduring Word, op. cit., p. 55

[20] 2 Peter 1:4

[21] John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8

[22] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[23] Pett, Peter: Truth According to Scripture, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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