Question: Please explain I John 3:9.
Answer: This text reads, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
The first part of this verse interposes little or no problem. Numerous Scriptures make it clear and plain that one who is born again (born of God) is delivered from the power of sin and enabled through the power of God to live a holy life free from sin. Matthew 1:21 “…He shall save his people from their sins.” Luke 1:73-75, “The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” Romans 6:14, “…Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are…under grace.” This makes it clear that the grace of God breaks the power and dominion of sin in the life of the person who receives it. Romans 6:17-18, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin….” This text makes it clear that when one obeys from his heart the Word of God and complies with its terms and conditions, he is set free from sin.
But the second part of this verse is a source of much controversy. We cannot interpret this to mean that one who is born again, saved, born of God, cannot possibly commit sin or even return to a life of sin if he so chooses. This would do violence to numerous Scriptures which teach to the contrary. II Peter 2:20-21, says, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have know it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” II Peter 3:17 says, “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” In II Peter, chapter one, beginning with verse five, a number of Christian graces are catalogued which the Christian is diligently to add to his Christian life. Then verse ten says, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Verse nine says, “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” These verses make it clear that only through diligent pursuit of the Christian life and cultivation of the Christian graces in one’s life can he maintain his experience and that one who fails to do this will fall from his own steadfastness and forget the experience he had with God at one time.
We are to understand this part of the text as applying to a present, up-to-date, continuing experience and relationship with God “Because he IS [present tense] born of God.” He has the seed of God (God’s Word and Spirit) abiding in him and he cannot sin as long as he is in this state. It does not mean that he does not possess the power, right or privilege to commit sin, but sin is contrary and repulsive to his nature and to the principles of light and truth that are in his soul and he cannot do it for that reason. It is the same as we would say about a man of irreproachable character and integrity: “That man cannot lie, cannot steal, cannot commit any of many other enormities in the catalog of sin and unrighteousness.” Not because he does not have the power and ability to do such things even as other men do, but it is so foreign to his character and life and the way we know him. Perhaps that thought is best stated in the words of Joseph to Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:9, “…How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” He had the power to do that thing even as other men, but it was so obnoxious and repulsive to his pure character that he just could not do it, but fled from it.
Also, it must be understood that he cannot purposely, knowingly do evil while the seed of God (the divine principle and truth) remains in him and he is born of God; for as soon as he consents to the evil and turns from the light and truth, this seed of God departs from him and he has departed from the holy commandment and is no longer a child of God.