By Johnny Stringer
The idea that one can maintain his relationship with God and continue to be counted righteous in God’s sight, even while he is persisting in sin, is patently false. In the verses under consideration in this article, John makes clear the necessity of living righteously, not sinfully.
Abiding In Christ Involves Not Sinning
In verse 6 the apostle writes, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.” Does this mean that he never commits a single act of sin? No, it cannot mean that, for this would contradict John’s teaching in 1 John 1:7-2:2, where he teaches that all of us sin at times. These verses show that even the one who walks in the light sins occasionally, so that he must be cleansed by the blood of Christ. The one who walks in the light, therefore, is not one who never commits an act of sin; rather, he is one whose general walk is in accordance with God’s word, and who, when he does occasionally sin, renounces it, seeking God’s pardon on God’s terms so as to be cleansed.
Since John’s statement cannot mean that the one who abides in Christ never commits a single act of sin, it must mean that sinning is not his way of life. Greek scholars confirm this conclusion. They affirm that the verb used by John denotes habitual action, not a single act of sin. The famous B.F. Wescott says, “It describes a character, `a prevailing habit.’ ” John’s meaning might be illustrated by the statement, “I do not drive fast.” When I make that statement, I mean that I do not make a practice of driving fast, but this does not rule out the possibility that I might drive fast in an exceptional situation, such as an emergency trip to the doctor.
The one who abides in Christ, then, does not continue in sin; sin is not his way of life. If he occasionally commits a sin in a time of weakness, he does not persist in it; rather, with a penitent heart he seeks God’s forgiveness on God’s terms (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). It is clear, therefore, that the one who persists in sin is out of Christ. One simply cannot persist in sin and maintain his relationship with Christ. This point is reaffirmed in 1 John 3:24. The significance of this point is obvious in view of the declaration, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:3). In order to die in the Lord, we must first live in the Lord; but those who live in sin are out of the Lord, hence will not enjoy the blessings that will come to those who die in Him.
Persistent Sinner Does Not See or Know Jesus
Continuing in verse 6 to show the necessity of not practicing sin, John asserts, “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” Again, the verb “sinneth” denotes habitual action, so that John is speaking of the one who continues in sin, not the one who commits a sin on an exceptional occasion and then corrects it: Perhaps this was written in reply to those who claimed to have special insight and knowledge and a special relationship with Jesus, yet persisted in sinfulness. Their claims were false.
Does this mean that one who has ever at any point in the past seen or known Jesus will simply never go into a life of sin? Does it mean that if one goes into a life of sin, his sinfulness is proof that he never really knew Jesus in the first place? No, this cannot be the meaning, for such an interpretation would contradict other passages such as 2 Pet. 2:20-22. In that passage Peter speaks of those who have known Jesus and thereby escaped the pollutions of the world, yet have returned to a life of sin, so that their latter end is worse than the beginning. Peter thus pictures some who live in sin even though they have known Jesus in the past.
We must conclude, therefore, that when John says they haven’t known or seen Him, he must mean that they haven’t continued to know or see Him. This conclusion is verified by the testimony of Greek scholars regarding the verbs used in this verse. They are in the perfect tense. Concerning this tense, Marshall says, “The Greek perfect can generally be taken as represented by an English present: a past action continuing in its effect down to the present, in contrast to an action wholly in the past” (The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, p. vii). Machen states, “The Greek perfect tense denotes the present state resultant upon a past action” (New Testament Greek for Beginners, p. 187). Machen goes on to say that the perfect tense is never used unless the past action had a permanent result. John’s usage of the perfect tense, therefore, proves that he does not mean that the habitual sinner has never at any time seen or known Jesus; he means that the sinner has not continued to see or know Him. In commenting on this verse, the eminent Greek scholar B.F. Wescott says, “The point regarded is present and not past . . . . It deals with the actual state of the man. Past sight and past knowledge cease to be unless they go forward” (The Epistles of St. John, p. 104).
Must Do Righteousness
In verse 7 John affirms, “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” We have learned that the persistent sinner is out of Christ and has not continued to see or know Jesus. Here we learn that he is not regarded as righteous in God’s sight. It is the man that does righteousness that God regards as righteous.
Doing righteousness in this verse does not have reference to sinless perfection. As we have already discussed, all of us sin on occasion, and there are provisions for forgiveness (1 John 1:7-2:1). Doing righteousness is the same as walking in the light, the meaning of which we have already explained. The one who does righteousness is the same as the one that sinneth not (v. 6). As explained in our discussion of that verse, the reference is to a general way of life. His way of life is not to sin, but to live righteously; and when he does occasionally sin, he does not persist in it, but penitently turns from it and seeks God’s forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). The one who lives such a generally righteous life is counted righteous, not because he has lived a perfectly righteous life, but because of the forgiveness that one receives who does not persist in unrighteous conduct, but meets God’s conditions to be pardoned of his occasional sins (1 John 1:7-9).
Note that John says not to let any man deceive us about this matter. John recognized the danger of being deceived by false teachers who would lead us to believe that we can persist in unrighteous, sinful actions, and still be regarded as righteous in God’s sight. There are those today who would deceive us into believing that pernicious error, even among our own brethren. We have brethren who tell us that we stand righteous in God’s sight, not through doing righteousness, but through having the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us – that is, through receiving credit for the perfectly righteous life that Christ lived. This means that when God looks at us He will not see certain sins in which we impenitently persist, and which we refuse to correct; rather, he will see the righteous life that Christ lived, and give us credit for His righteousness. Don’t you believe it! According to John, it is the one who does righteousness -not the one who persists in some unrighteous actions but gets credit for our Lord’s righteousness – that stands righteous in God’s sight.
Summing up these verses, the one who persists in sin is in a tragic position. He is out of Christ, he doesn’t see or know Jesus, and he is not regarded as righteous in God’s sight.
- According to v. 6, the one who abides in Christ does not ever commit an act of sin. True or False
- One who persists impenitently in sin is out of Christ. True or False
- What verse shows the importance of being in Christ when we die?
- What kind of action is denoted by the verb “sinneth” in v. 6?
- Give a passage which contradicts the idea that if one lives a life of sin, his sinfulness proves he never really knew Jesus in the first place.
- The tense which John used in v. 6 for the verbs “seen” and “known” proves that the ones who live in sin have never at any time seen or known Jesus. True or False
- Who is righteous in God’s sight?
- Doing righteousness denotes sinless perfection. True or False
- Doing righteousness is the same as walking in the light. True or False
- Choose either (a) or (b) as the correct ending to the sentence. The one who does righteousness is righteous because (a) he lives a perfectly righteous life, (b) he is forgiven his sins.
- What false theory is being promoted regarding how one becomes righteous in God’s sight?
Guardian of Truth XXV: 15, pp. 226-227
April 9, 1981