1 John 3: 1 John 3:4-10 (1) Verses 4-5

By Johnny Stringer

Men generally fail to recognize the seriousness and the deep significance of sin. Some regard sin so lightly that they believe people can persist in sin and still be counted righteous in God’s sight. Some who teach the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” have made very strong public assertions that a Christian’s sins do not affect his soul, that once one is saved it matters not what sins he commits or how long and impenitently he persists in his sins, he cannot be lost. John corrects this erroneous concept in 1 John 3:4-10.

This is the first of three articles on this very powerful passage. In this article, we shall examine verses 4-5, in which John (1) defines sin (v. 4) and (2) shows that the relationship of Christ to sin is such as to preclude our claiming to be followers of Christ while persisting in sin (v. 5). Our second article will discuss verses 6-7, in which John establishes the necessity of not practicing sin. The third and last of this series will deal with verses 8-10, in which John teaches that whether or not one practices sin determines whether he is a child of God or a child of the devil. Having read this paragraph, you now have the four main points of one preacher’s expository sermon on this passage.

Definition of Sin (v. 4)

John defines sin as transgression of God’s law. It is in considering this definition that we are impressed with the terrible seriousness of sin. It manifests a lack of respect for God; hence, it is of the utmost gravity. When we are inclined to regard sin lightly, to minimize it or shrug it off, let us consider the fact that when one sins he is snubbing his nose at the Creator; he is defiantly shaking his little fist in the face of the Almighty; he is rebelling against the One to Whom he owes his very existence. Oh, let us contemplate deeply the seriousness of our actions!

It is for this reason that all sins should be taken seriously, even those which men would call little sins. A “white” lie is a violation of God’s law, just as a “black” lie is; consequently, it manifests a lack of respect for God, just as a black lie does. This makes it a serious thing. Stealing a dime violates God’s law just as stealing a thousand dollars does. The amount is not the thing that makes stealing serious; the thing that makes it serious is that it is done in rebellion against God.

John’s definition of sin also helps us to understand David’s statement in Psalm 51:4 following his sin involving Bathsheba. He said that his sin had been against God and God only. Some find this puzzling in view of the fact that he had wronged Bathsheba and her husband. Did he not sin against them? Only in a secondary sense. Basically and primarily, all sin is against God, for it is His law that is violated. If I steal from you, my sin is still basically against God, not you; for it is not your law I violate, but God’s. Only in a secondary sense can it be said that we sin against other humans.

In his definition of sin, John shows what it is that makes anything wrong. It is wrong because it is not in accordance with God’s law. If there were no God, there would be no basis for condemning anything as wrong. Humans might disagree- about what is right and what is wrong. If there were no Supreme Being to determine right and wrong, what man would have the right to make the determination? For this reason, the atheist who moralizes is in a predicament. If he says that it is wrong to murder innocent people, ask him why it is wrong; ask him who says so. If there were no God to make the determination, I would have as much right to say that murdering innocent people is good as someone else would to say it is evil.

Finally, it is obvious from this definition that we are now under law. Some teach that since we are under grace, we are not under law. However, if there were not any law for us to transgress, then we could not sin, for sin is transgression of law. In fact, if there were no law, and hence no sin, then we would need no grace. We should be thankful that we do have more than mere law; we have grace by which we can conditionally be forgiven of our violations of law. Hence, we do not depend upon perfect law-keeping, sinless living, to be justified. Nevertheless, we have a law to which we are amenable. The possibility of forgiveness brings us to the next point of our study.

Christ’s Relationship to Sin (v. 5)

All of our Lord’s actions with regard to sin have been in opposition to it. Therefore, we cannot persist in the practice of sin and be His followers. In the first place, Christ came to take away sin. How can anyone claim devotion to Christ, yet persist in practicing the very thing that Christ came to take away? Through His death on the cross He provided that our sins might be removed, forgiven (Matt. 26:28). How thankful we should be that as serious as our sins are, as offensive and repulsive to God as they are, they can still be forgiven. But the forgiveness provided by Christ is conditional (Heb. 5:9). There are conditions which the aliens must meet (Acts 2:38) and conditions which the citizen of the kingdom must meet (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). Since these conditions include repentance, one surely cannot persist in any sin and be forgiven.

The second thing that John notes regarding Christ’s relationship to sin is that “in him is no sin.” He lived a perfectly sinless life. While He was tempted as all men are, He continually disdained all that was sinful (Heb. 4:15). How, then, can anyone who persists in sinfulness claim to be a follower of Christ, a Christian?


  1. What is sin?
  2. Why is it a serious thing to tell a “white” lie or to steal a very small amount?
  3. Against whom did David say he had sinned?
  4. If there where no God, who would have the right to determine what is right and what is wrong?
  5. Since we are under grace, we are not subject to God’s law. True or False.
  6. What two things did John note regarding Christ’s relationship to sin?

Guardian of Truth XXV: 14, pp. 210-211
April 2, 1981