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The Sin

By David A. DePra

According to God, sin is "missing the mark." That is what the word "sin" means in the original. The "mark," of course, is the glory of God, for "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

Christians sin. John says, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us," (I Jn. 1:8) and, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us." (I Jn. 1:10) But John adds, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sin of the whole world." (I Jn. 2:1-2)

John says all of this in the first chapter of his epistle. Yet by the time we get to the third chapter, we find this statement:

And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abides in him sins not: whosoever sins has not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother. (1 John 3:5-10)

Is this the SAME apostle John? In chapter one, he tells us that we dare not say that we have no sin. But here, in chapter three, he says, "He that is born of God does not commit sin…he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Both cannot be true. Have we finally found a contradiction in the Bible? – indeed within the same epistle?

Born Again

Well, of course not. Some commentators explain that in chapter three, John is talking about a habitual sinning – sinning as a practice. Those who are born of God cannot do that. But the fact is, some truly saved people fall into some terrible habitual sins. We know that. Does this mean they aren’t really saved?

The problem is cleared up once we recognize that there is a difference between "acts of sin," which are transgressions of God’s moral law, and THE SIN. In chapter one, John is saying that all of us transgress God’s law. We dare not deny that we do. But in chapter three, it is clear that John is talking about THE SIN – the one sin which a born again Christian cannot commit.

What is THE SIN? It is the sin of unbelief – not the temporary kind into which we fall. Not the temporary kind where we doubt God, walk out of His will, or backslide. No. The unbelief – THE SIN of I John 3 -- is the sin of refusing or neglecting Jesus Christ as Savior. It is the opposite of placing my faith in Christ. For a born again Christian, this is impossible.

Why? Because the way in which I became a born again Christian – a new creation – was by surrendering my life to Christ by faith. This surrender resulted in new life. It was not new life that I created, or earned. Thus, it is not new life which I can maintain by works. It is a new life which God has given me by Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is not possible, having been born again, to be "born again backwards."

To be born again, God required only one thing of me: Relinquish my old life. He never required me to gender the new – but to just surrender the old to the Cross of Christ. I do that by faith. What comes out of that is resurrection unto newness of life. God does that and everything else. We call this new life, "salvation," or the new birth. I am a new creation in Jesus Christ.

At that point, there is no way back. I have already given myself to Christ. Thus, the question is not whether I can "lose my salvation." That isn’t possible. The question is what I am going to become BECAUSE of salvation.

THE SIN John is talking about in I John 3 is THE SIN of the human race: Unbelief. This sin isn’t just doing wrong things. Unbelief is BEING wrong – towards God. Unbelief is the refusal or willful neglect of Jesus Christ. It means that I am so set in my own way and my own will that I pay no heed to the Truth. Most people who are guilty of THE SIN don’t shake their fist at God. They simply ignore Him, and make a habit of it.

Once we see that THE SIN John is talking about is unbelief, his words make sense. For instance, he says, "Who ever abides in Him sins not." Why? Because he IS abiding in Him. That is faith – not sin. John also says, "He that commits sin is of the Devil." Obviously, if this were talking about "acts of sin," we would all be children of the Devil. We are not. John is talking about the sin of the Devil, which is rebellion against God, or, in our case, unbelief. That is why John adds, "for the Devil sins from the beginning."

Neglecting Christ

The book of Hebrews sheds some light on this subject. There it is written:

For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:26-29)

Obviously, "if we sin willfully," cannot mean, "if we sin on purpose." If it did mean that, then the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins would depend on our works, for once we sinned on purpose, "there would remain no more sacrifice for sin." That would mean the moment we sinned on purpose, God would, in effect, yank back our salvation. We would indeed be "born again backwards." Our salvation would therefore be dependent upon our works.

No. The writer of Hebrews is talking about the same sin of unbelief which John is talking about. He is saying that once God draws a person to Christ by giving them light and Truth, and that person "sins willfully" by neglecting Christ or rejecting Him, then – for that person – there is no other sacrifice for sin which God has to offer. Jesus is the ONLY WAY to the Father.

"Sinning willfully after seeing the knowledge of the Truth" is THE SIN of unbelief. This is clearly seen in the latter part of the passage. It says there that if someone does reject Christ, they "have trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing." This is what we do if we commit THE SIN. We consider it of such little value that it does not merit our attention. Thus, by choice, we never receive Christ.


The reason unbelief is THE SIN, and ultimately results in eternal death, is because God’s grace is so free. All I need to do is "come to Jesus" by faith, and surrender to Him my old life. God will draw me there, but I must do the surrendering. If I do, God give me new life and all that goes with it: The Holy Spirit.

If unbelief is THE SIN, then faith – or believing – is THE obedience. Indeed, all obedience in Christ is the OUTCOME of being rightly related to God by faith. If I believe, I will obey. If I believe, I will love. It is a process of growing and learning, but one I will be in as a new creation in Jesus Christ.*

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