Contradictions – Does Everyone Sin?

It’s been a while, but not forgotten.  The next alleged Biblical contradiction in the list is whether or not everyone sins.  Multiple verses are quoted saying that everyone sins – there is nobody who does not sin – 1 Kings 8:46, 2 Chronicles 6:36, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, 1 John 1:8-10.  Then 1 John 3:9 is quoted as contradicting all of these.

We should note that 1 John is quoted on both sides of this issue, so if there is going to be a condemning contradiction, surely it would be catching St. John in contradicting himself in the same letter, right?

1 John 1:5-10 contrasts the nature of God, which is sinless and all together light – no darkness (sin) at all – with our own nature.  Our own nature is sinful and needs forgiveness, which is received through the blood of Christ (1:7).  The result is that we who were sinful are forgiven – the guilt of our sins is wiped away and we walk in God’s revealed truth (his Word) which points out our sinfulness and therefore our need of a Savior.  If we insist that we don’t need a Savior, that we are not sinful, then we contradict God and call him a liar.

1 John 3:1-10 is a deeper exploration of what the blood of Christ has accomplished in those who have faith in him.  Now we are not dealing with our sinful nature as distinct from the holy and perfect nature of God, but rather with our new nature through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf.  What we are is a new creation, but we can’t perceive this yet.  What we see is our sinfulness, because we are still sinful (v.2), but this is not who we are any more through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are, in fact, pure in God’s eyes, because our sin is forgiven and not held against us.  In this reality that has yet to be revealed, our lives are spent in anticipation of finally beholding our recreated selves, our sanctified, pure, and holy selves.  Knowing who it is we really are and will one day be shown to be, our lives are spent trying to live consistent with this new identity (v.3).

But those who think that their new identity in Christ is a license to continue sinning however they see fit do not understand what has happened to them, what is offered to them through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and who they can in fact be.  They prefer sin to the reality of the new identity Jesus makes possible.  This confusion is referenced elsewhere, such as the 6th chapter of Romans where Paul deals with various aspects of this issue.

What John is dealing with in 1 John 3 is the Christian’s emphasis or focus in their life.  Is it on gratifying the self constantly, regardless of God’s love and grace?  Or are they practicing righteousness, seeking to live consistent to who God has declared them to be in Christ (vs. 7-8)?  For the one united in Christ, their heart cannot be set wholly on sinning – it can’t be where their joy and focus is, because Christ should occupy that place in their heart.  If they are able to focus only on their sinful desires – without struggle, without remorse, without acknowledging that it is wrong and that they need to be cleansed of such things by God the Holy Spirit – then they aren’t truly in Christ.  They may say they are, but they aren’t.

Note that this is not something that someone from the outside can determine.  I can see someone sinning, but I can’t know for certain the state of their heart and mind in that moment of sin, or in the moments afterwards.  I can’t know whether there is regret or remorse.  Therefore, it is not for one Christian to declare to another Christian that they are no longer in Christ.  Rather, we are to speak in love to one another pointing out the sin so that we can walk together towards undoing the power of sin in each person’s life.

So no, I don’t see 1 John 3:9 as a contradiction of the overwhelming evidence of the rest of Scripture that all human beings are sinful.  It’s a complicated passage, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be a contradiction, unless you want to intentionally try and interpret it that way.

 

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