Study the Word: Bulletin Articles

Study the Word: Bulletin Articles

“"Cannot" does not mean "can't"”

Categories: repent, resist sins, Study the Word

At first reading, one would conclude that the apostle John stated that once a person becomes a Christian he/she no longer sins. Here is what John wrote, “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.” (I Jn. 3:9). Is that true? Are saints sinless? Let’s take a closer look.


We need to go back to the first chapter to help us understand what is being taught. The apostle included himself when he told brethren, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I Jn. 1:8). Notice that this inspired writer included himself by saying, “we”. Are we to assume that John, not any of the brethren that he is addressing, are born of God?


How can we harmonize the two statements that were uttered? Is this a case of a clear contradiction within the word of God? To that we say no. The apostle was inspired to write both and it is our duty to study and rightly divide them. The danger is in reading more into what was said. That actually goes for both. It is just as wrong to assume John, in the first chapter, was condoning the practice of sin, as it would be to conclude in chapter three he is now advocating perfection.


Christians are never allowed to sin. In I John 2:1, the brethren were told, “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin.” All sin is evil and and has serious consequences unless repented of (Rom. 6:23; Lk. 13:3). There is not a hint of tolerance for sinning. We are commanded to resist the wiles of the devil (Jas. 4:7). But, when sin happens, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus (I Jn. 2:1).


This leads us to the text where John stated that those born of God cannot sin (I Jn. 3:9). What is John saying here, knowing he previously stated he and other saints have sinned? Firstly, the word “cannot” doesn’t mean they can’t. For example in Luke 16:3, Jesus spoke a parable where a steward said within, “What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.”  It wasn’t this man couldn’t dig. The same point is illustrated again by our Lord when He stated concerning someone who came to a friend a midnight, “and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?” (Lk. 11:7). It wasn’t that he couldn’t get up.


In John’s epistle he wasn’t saying those born of God won’t sin. If you read the whole text in I John 3:4-9, you can see the point is that those born of God will not abide in sin. In verse 7, it was said that those who “practice righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”  One born of God does not practice lawlessness. When and if they sin, they immediately repent. To walk in sin and not care, you cannot say they have Christ’s seed remaining in them (vr. 9). To be righteous, a saint must practice righteousness, not just do one act of righteousness.


Peter, Simon, John, the church at Ephesus, and all other Christians are born of God. For them to say they are, they better not have unrepented sin in their lives. Why? Because, as John wrote, those born of God do not abide in a sinful state. This is the comfort given to all who are baptized into Christ. To live in fear that if they ever sin again they might question their conversion. Paul taught that in Christ Jesus one can have the forgiveness of sin (Eph. 1:7).  This spiritual blessing is for Christians. Why say such if Christians don’t sin once they are part of God’s family?


This article is a far cry from making allowances for sinning. When we do sin, there better be godly sorrow that leads to repentance, else we are not born of God (II Cor. 7:10). Read that text – it was talking about a fallen brother. May we rightly divide the word.